Durban – Historically disadvantaged schools are not producing enough rugby players, and those who want to play the sport professionally are met with many barriers along the way.
These are the thoughts of KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union chief executive Pete Smith, following the debate over the newly announced quota system for next year’s Vodacom Cup.
In an interview with The Mercury, Smith said the new transformation targets set by the South African Rugby Union last week – a match-day squad of 22 must include at least seven black players, of whom two must be forwards and five must be in the starting line-up – were fully backed by his union.
However, he said, more needed to be done at the junior level to ensure that there were enough suitable players coming through the ranks.
“Black schools aren’t producing enough players. This is the case in KwaZulu-Natal and I presume elsewhere.
“In a very competitive environment, the small percentage of rugby players who eventually become professionals are mostly from your top rugby-playing schools, with top facilities and expert coaching,” said Smith.
He said that historically disadvantaged players in the province faced serious limitations when it came to adequate playing fields, suitably trained and motivated sports teachers at school level, and rugby not being the first-choice sport for most pupils.
“Hard work is required to change this, and we are working with the provincial Department of Sport and Recreation to do that,” he said.
Smith said club rugby was an avenue where historically disadvantaged players could be developed, and the number of black clubs in the province had increased from one in 1992 to 29 in 2010.
“The demographics of rugby have changed in KwaZulu-Natal, but whether the pace is sufficient is debatable. It is probably not.”
Smith said of the roughly 200 players at the Sharks Academy, about 70 were black.
If these players progressed to provincial level, the Vodacom Cup targets would be met in the future without a quota requirement.
He said the number of black players coming into the provincial set-up had increased and should continue to do so, increasing the selection pool.
“These transformation targets will increase the effort provincial unions put into creating pathways for talented black players to develop and play at a provincial or national level.”
Smith said this would lead to more black players on TV, who would inspire young players of colour to work towards the professional ranks.