Cape Town – The development of rugby in the Western Cape goes beyond the simple argument of raw talent of players from previously disadvantaged areas versus those from established rugby schools and clubs.
Beyond talent lies the need for proper investment to turn a player from an amateur into a professional, says Dr Nasief van der Schyff, a former member of the Western Province transformation committee.
The fate of any young rugby player, he said, could be decided as young as 13, when they first participate in the Craven Week tournament. At the event, held in Durban this year, top players show off their skills, hoping to catch the eye of Western Province Rugby.
They also learn fundamental skills which, combined with raw talent, help turn them into professionals. And, said Van der Schyff, by the age of 22 players would have eight years of investment and skills development behind them.
But it is a bittersweet time for clubs like Collegians, from Mitchells Plain, who lose their best players to schools and institutions which can provide what they cannot.
“The talent is definitely here, but we don’t have the structures. Often they get bursaries or scholarships to play for schools or other clubs,” said Collegians chief Armien Brink.
“They will be exposed to better opportunities, something we cannot give them. And it’s not just Collegians.”
Van der Schyff said:
“You have to look at all the factors. Talent is very important, but if a player is not prepared physically and psychologically, that talent counts for very little. Players need to be taught how to eat properly, get a proper education and be disciplined.”
Historically, schools in poorer communities lack the funding and infrastructure to develop any kind of sports. Clubs themselves are limited financially and rely on sponsorships and volunteers.
Van der Schyff said when compared to former Model C schools like Wynberg Boys’ and Paarl Gym, the difference was vast. “The top schools have specialised budgets, fulltime coaches, biokinetics, while children in Mitchells Plain sometimes don’t even have supper at night. The deck is stacked against them and people often play the blame game, calling on Western Province Rugby to do more for poorer communities, but even they can only do so much on their own.”
What was needed was investment from the business sector. “Model C schools have a large group of successful alumni that reinvest in the next generation and create a cycle of success. This does not happen in disadvantaged areas. Local businesses are the best way to invest in clubs.”
An example of a successful partnership was the Vuka League, founded by former Springbok Dale Santon.
“I came back to Cape Town after playing for the Bulls and was shocked that, of 16 schools, only two played rugby. I got together with Saru, some friends from the SA Rugby Legends and some businesses and established the league. Today we have 86 teams in the under-15 and under-19 divisions in the Western Cape alone,” he said.
“Vuka, which means awakening in Xhosa, was designed to mine those diamonds in the rough, those from normal, government schools missed by the likes of Paarl Gym.”
“Last year two of our youngsters signed up with the Lions. It’s costly to keep the league going but it’s worth it when you see the passion of the players. Vuka is more than a sports league – it’s a way to keep our children away from crime and gangsterism.”
In spite of giving Western Province Rugby more than a week to comment, it had not responded at the time of going to press.