CAPE TOWN – Is too much being invested in schools rugby, and does all that investment actually pay off?
Considering that South Africa has arguably the best schoolboy rugby in the world (results in recent years suggest that this statement is fact and the word “arguably” shouldn’t even be there), an obvious question or concern is why that prowess isn’t replicated higher up.
At the weekend, the Junior Springboks had to be satisfied with a bronze medal at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship after beating hosts, Argentina, 41-16 in the third-place playoff. While many probably expected worse given their worrying pre-season results and performances, the Baby Boks’ finish was lauded by some. Sure, that finish will still get you a spot on the podium, but why - with our schools rugby being in the superior state it’s in - should we celebrate anything other than the No 1 position?
While watching the junior international tournament, I couldn’t help but wonder if those results even matter in terms of senior international rugby.
France’s U20s went back to back in Rosario on Saturday, but that result doesn’t mean that one can hold your breath while entertaining the prospect of their team becoming world leaders in a few years’ time. After all, something seems to be very wrong when it comes to the French developing that young promise for senior rugby, and their club system plays a big part in that.
On the other hand, New Zealand’s disappointing end at the tournament doesn’t automatically mean the Kiwis’ future dominance of world rugby is in danger.
So, U20 results not correlating with senior Test-rugby prowess (or vice versa) isn’t a problem unique to South Africa.
But SA’s problem surely is a candidate for the most puzzling one. How does it happen that the Junior Boks cannot emulate that schoolboy success? And does the fact that our school-level results aren’t copied higher up make all the resources that go into it a pointless task?
Since the inception of the current tournament, SA have managed to win the World Rugby U20 title just once, back in 2012 - a bizarre stat given the state of rugby at more junior levels. Springbok rugby, too, has seen better days (although there is certainly no lack of talent).
Again, is too much being invested into schools rugby? I think not. But that investment becomes a waste if it doesn’t progress further than U18 level, which is currently the case. And that’s the problem that needs to be addressed.
We need to see the dividends thereof in the Junior Boks’ results. And it shouldn’t stop there either.
There has been quite a bit of discussion around whether our rugby is too competitive at school level. But I think another one should be ‘What’s the point of that competitiveness if that’s where the ideal results end?’@WynonaLouw