We need more professional clubs in South Africa, says Catrakilis
CAPE TOWN – Is enough being done for the club rugby system in South Africa?
Only France has more registered rugby players than SA, and while that says enough about the talent pool we have at our disposal locally, it should also raise the question of whether there is much more to be gained from that wealth of player resources.
When it comes to rugby, I doubt there are occurrences more unfortunate than having talented players fall through the cracks and never fulfil their potential or play at the level they could. After all, not everybody gets to follow the “traditional” path. Not everybody plays Craven Week or lands a contract fresh out of high school. And for these guys, especially, club rugby can be a platform, it can be a net.
It’s a concept three guys who have spent some time in the club system - Nic Groom, Demetri Catrakilis and Kevin Musikanth - understand.
“If you, for example, look at how soccer is played in the UK, they’ve got so many leagues and some guys come from League Seven and end up playing for Liverpool or something, and it’s just good structures, it’s nothing fancy,” said Groom.
“If you’re a coach and you’ve had success at Varsity Cup level, there’s definitely something special about you because I honestly think it’s tougher than coaching a fully-professional team. There are so many things you have to manage - some guys are there because they want to play at the highest level, some just want to drink beer afterwards, then you also have to deal with (academic) schedules.”
There is no doubt that the Varsity Cup competition puts both players and coaches on the radar. The player turnout to higher levels, such as Super Rugby, is well-documented, also in terms of coaches, as currently Kevin Musikanth (UCT) and Jonathan Mokuena (NWU-Pukke) are the only two mentors to have won the premier university competition not to have coached at Super Rugby level or higher.
But what about those guys - players or coaches - who don’t even get a televised platform on Monday nights?
“There needs to be focus on club rugby, but there needs to be nurturing and training to enable role players to succeed,” Musikanth said.
“Everybody, from management down to club unit specialists need to be nurtured into doing their role correctly in the professional era, otherwise we end up in a situation where we stagnate and the rest of the world catches up as they focus on the details of professionalism.
“Clubs are professional overseas, and in large they’re amateur in South Africa, unions are professional, and I think that’s a problem. Hong Kong and Germany almost made it to the World Cup, they lost out to Canada, and a large part of those teams were from the Cape Town club system those two teams basically had half of their players consisting of ex UCT, Villagers and False Bay players.”
Catrakilis, who recently retired, said: “To me the whole structure just doesn’t make any sense at all. You go to France and they’ve got 14 teams in the Top 14 and they’ve got 14 or 16 teams in the second division - which is also professional - and then they’ve got a league below that and one below that.
“I feel like a lot of guys, if they don’t crack it at a certain age, they just stop because they don’t want to go and play club rugby and risk getting injured and pay medical bills and whatever else comes with it.
“We need more professional clubs. Somebody seriously needs to look at the system because we don’t want to fall behind when we can be so far ahead. We’re missing out on so many good rugby players because our structures are poor.”
While the number of clubs in SA may not be a problem, the focus given to the club system is. Seeing no fewer than 12 Varsity Cup products part of the Springboks’ World Cup success in Japan was quite something, so just imagine if the rest of the club system could eventually claim a similar headline?@WynonaLouw