School rugby is dying

A recent New Zealand Rugby report surprisingly pointed to the decreasing schoolboy rugby participation at an “alarming rate”.

It’s surprising news because rugby is New Zealand’s main sport. They have a strong culture built around it. And it’s not like they have rested on their laurels or done much to drive fans away either. They have a winning culture. They have won the last two Rugby World Cups and on the Southern Hemisphere front their local Super Rugby teams have been faring well and playing an appealing brand of rugby in the process. They also don’t have various official racial selection policies which override merit in order to achieve targets and demoralise a large segment of the game’s support base. And yeah, rugby on pay TV has a few audience limitation issues and yeah New Zealanders will speak of better times in the past as far as their economy is concerned but all-in-all, it’s still in reasonably good shape.

These factors above not only suggest NZ rugby should be in good nick closer to grassroots level, they tell a bit of a worrying story as far as South Africa school level rugby is concerned.

Economy/finance is an important consideration. In countries like Australia and England, rugby has been the domain of the wealthier class. Historically in New Zealand and South Africa rugby has tended to belong to a more egalitarian society. That is changing now. Advances particularly scientific have meant it’s slowly but surely becoming an elitist sport. School rugby is costly now. To produce a 1st XV level competitive player who stands a chance of continuing to play at a high level after school, now requires a substantial investment starting when boy hits his teens. So it is handing an advantage to schools with the financial muscle and willingness to support this in their budget. This is ultimately what’s killing the game in parts though. Smaller and/or less well-off schools cannot keep up. Their lack of competitiveness is ultimately leading to a growing gap between themselves and those schools which are able to dedicate more funds to rugby be it in the form of player recruitment, sponsoring, coaching, development through competition/facilities and even exposure to open doors after finishing school. The tipping point is reached when those other schools no longer have enough interested kids to form even one senior high school 15-player team. That’s generally the point of no return.

The New Zealand report has picked up on this. Schools that once offered rugby and were able to produce provincial players and the occasional international are disappearing off the school rugby map altogether.

The same thing is happening in SA. Schools that once formed part of the annual fixture list of the region’s big guns and had the means to pull off an upset, are just never heard from these days. In a few years time more school will join them in school rugby obscurity.

The world’s a different place these days too. For one there is a much greater safety consciousness. Things like concussions are treated very seriously. On average rugby boys are big and stronger than ever before, resulting in bigger collisions and if nothing else a greater visible concern amongst parents. It impacts negatively on rugby participation.

Ever stop to wonder how you’d make it through a normal day without a smartphone, well try imagining how you would have managed your time and lifestyle if you and everyone you’d known when you were a teenager had a cellphone. Girls aside, there are distractions aplenty for the boys growing up in this modern world. Rugby equals time away from things they’d rather be doing.

In South Africa racial transformation is taking place in schools based in previous white dominated residential areas, some faster than others. Not all the cultural groups that are starting to make up a larger segment of those schools that have always offered rugby, share the same passion for the sport. So it goes without saying that as this progression comes about, it has a directly proportional influence on decreasing interest in the game played at school level.


  1. @PaarlBok: I agree. Local rugby will never die out but the game you grew up with and love/d because of the standard and the expectations being in line, well that is in risk of disappearing from SA.

    It also seems inevitable that high level SBR will only be played by a few high schools at some point in the future.

  2. If I look at the standard of play during yesterday’s Super Sunday Circus then I’d say it’s not dying……but the funeral arrangements are being made

  3. @boerboel: Hokkie gaan julle hard slaan van die jaar af. Daar is al klaar van jul aspirant 1ste span spelers wat eerder hokkie speel as rugby. Daai het nog nooit by PRG gebeur nie.

  4. Ek wil nou nie onredelik wees maar as ek moet glo dat n rugbyspeler hokkie bo rugby verkies dan kan ek not sowel glo dat Juluis hierdie jaar vir die HNP gaan staan

  5. @PaarlBok: If you read the article it speaks about a diminishing player base at school boy level due to the concentration of talent, facilities etc at a few rugby academy type schools. If this is the case, and it seems to be the trend in SA, I can’t see the benefit with regard to growing the player base, developing the sport and rugby in general. The less people participate, the less you grow spectatorship, the less advertising revenue you generate, the less money goes into the sport. I think it would be a wrong assessment to consider that rugby is not deeply cultural in NZ. In fact the thinking that rugby will survive in SA because it is so deeply cultural leads to the ongoing need for transformation, this isn’t the preserve of one particular cultural group.

  6. @Speartackle: someone was saying a whole lot of tickets were given away for free for yesterday’s games.

    But full-marks to whoever’s idea it was. I’d say try and come up with thinking outside the box themes every weekend, make the tickets R50 for the whole SR season. Just build some atmosphere again. It’s easier to sell a superhero rugby jersey, food and drink to someone who’s at the stadium than it is to someone watching on TV at home.

    R50 x 30000 spectators is half a million than R100 x 10000 spectators before even adding in the food and drink difference created by having 20 000 more people at a stadium.

  7. Can’t remember on which thread,but I said the only way forward for SA rugby is to sell the franchises to individuals.


  8. Middag
    Ek is nuut hier
    Ek sien uit om almal beter te leer ken
    Getroue ondersteuner van skole en hul sporte veral Boishaai
    Ek was 1963 in matriek
    Bly tans in Namibie

  9. @Gifappel: You can’t be new to this platform if you ask such a question. Newbie???? or another personality of Andre T. Or a local from Memories

  10. Make the new okes feel at home ffs
    Get rid of this silver spoon mentality

  11. @Hooit: Makes Hay while the Sun Shines is that a rumour too, or just the iTranslate having a problem.

  12. The reality is that there are already less rugby players at primary school level … the world is indeed a changing place.

    We tend to point fingers at the schools that are still willing to put in the hard work and finances to develop rugby players. If it wasn’t for these schools the situation would have been worse.

    So thumbs up to the schools and all involved represented on this forum!

  13. Dis seker nie die regte plek nie, Frikkie van Zyl bekende in die Paarl by Gim en Boland Landbou is 2 Febr oorlede.

    RIV ou Grote

  14. @AbsolutMenlo: it starts with lack of male teachers participating/coach at respective schools! There is alot of factors.
    Eg.a group of 98 want to play rip rugby u8, all the wanna be dads are there, come u9 school policy don’t allow for parents to coach and, you loose two whole teams hang-up their jerseys f hockey cycling or what ever.
    Rugby as a whole should be played at a club. Coaches, resources, fisios, dietitians etc.
    Schools are not equipped with total noligable coaches managing children for sports. It is the exception of a few schools that can deal with it.
    Its also an era where kids rather sit inside sitting, vegging, playing games as apposed to playing outside etc.


Leave a Reply