The rugby hardships of having a 14-year-old in primary school

The primary school rugby ceiling age-group is normally under-13.

A while back in an effort to improve safety in primary school rugby, SARU declared that primary school students turning 14-years-old during the calendar year were not longer permitted to play primary school rugby. They are not even meant to attend rugby practices with classmates who are under-13 and therefore qualify to play.

SARU’s decision about these under-14’s still in primary school had good intentions behind it. Nevertheless it has been a bitter pill to swallow for some parents who’ve been in that boat and who’ve found it to be a form of exclusionism their son didn’t deserve.

The only recourse for parents in these case (and their are some schools that have been very supportive in the regard), is to let their primary school son play under-14 rugby at a nearby high school.

Obviously it helps when there is a close relationship between the primary school and high school or if the boy is able to play for the under-14 team of the school he will most likely attend the following year. It’s also an adjustment bonus if the youngster is able to play alongside friends or even just former primary school teammates, as he is pretty much a foreigner to the high school he represents in every other respect.

It’s not ideal. It’s known to can cause unwanted stress. Thankfully it’s not the norm.

SARU’s age-banding

Under 13 (U13) = Players aged 11, 12, or 13, with these players turning 12, 13, and having turned 13 respectively during the year in question
Under 14 (U14) = Players aged 12, 13, or 14, with these players turning 13, 14, and having turned 14 respectively during the year in question
Under 15 (U15) = Players aged 13, 14, or 15, with these players turning 14, 15, and having turned 15 respectively during the year in question
Under 16 (U16) = Players aged 14, 15, or 16, with these players turning 15, 16, and having turned 16 respectively during the year in question
Under 17 (U17) = Players aged 15, 16, or 17, with these players turning 16, 17, and having turned 17 respectively during the year in question
Under 18 (U18) = Players aged 16, 17, or 18, with these players turning 17, 18, and having turned 18 respectively during the year in question
Under 19 (U19) = Players aged 16, 17, 18, or 19, with these players turning 17, 18, 19, and having turned 19 respectively during the year in question

Age‐grade: An Age‐grade is determined by the maximum age, as determined on 31st December of that specific
year, of a player allowed to participate within the prescribed Age‐grade. For example, the oldest player in the
U13 Age‐grade, would still be 13 years old on 31st December of the specific year in question

Minimum Age: The minimum age allowed in an Age‐grade is determined by the age that you turn during the
specific year in question. For example, if the minimum age is 11 on the 1st of January, then on the 31st of
December of the same year, you would have to be 12 years old, having turned 12 years old during the specific
year in question. You cannot have turned 11 on the 1st of January, as you would still be 11 by midnight on the
31st of December of the same year.

B ‐ Regulations:
In School Rugby in South Africa, schools may set their own Age‐grade divisions, but the following stipulations have to
be implemented:
1. In “Primary School Rugby”, no player, who on the 1st of January in any given year, as defined under Minimum
Age, is more than two (2) years younger, than the prescribed maximum stipulated age within an Age‐grade
category, may participate within that Age‐grade during the year in question.
a. For example, if you turn 11 on the 1st of January or are younger than 11 (e.g. 10) on the 1st of January,
you cannot be allowed to play in the U13 division within that year, as the oldest player in the U13 Agegrade,
as defined above, would be 13 years of age, and having turned 13 during the year in question.
b. The player may not be older than the stipulated Age‐grade e.g. in the U13 division, a player may not
be 14 years old or be turning 14 years old during the year in question

30 Comments

  1. High school sport is fairly lenient towards boys turning 19. Since 2008 they have not been allowed to play at the national youth weeks and there are few other technical disqualifications for some but by in large most can still participate. For boys turning 14 in primary school, things are a lot harsher.

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  2. @beet: “For boys turning 14 in primary school things are a lot harsher.”

    Interestingly that’s the case with BV’s 2019 headboy. He started playing for BV’s u14’s while still in Gr7, played 1st team and CW last year and will be u19 this year, yet has never failed or repeated a year. So the proposed “5 year high school sport” rule will disqualify him from playing this year?

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  3. @beet: I can vouch for that. My son started school late because of an illness and had to play u14 while still at primary school. Not rugby, but cricket and believe me, it was not nice for him. The Gr8 boys just did not want accept him as one of them, although he went to that high school the following year and still plays with them. But that year was horrible!!

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  4. We have about 3 /14 boys in school this year that played A or B team last year. The nearby high school provide transport to assist these boys to be able to attend practice and match days. And they play with quite a few team mates from last year, so there is a level of familiarity with their team mates.

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  5. @Smallies: Ek dink die aanpassing is waarskynlik makliker by plattelandse skole, waar so ‘n o/14 reeds op laerskool saam met baie van die hoërskool seuns gespeel het en bekend is aan hulle.

    Die spesifieke seun wat ek bo van gepraat het is ook ‘n baie goeie atleet en was as gr7 ‘n lid van Ben Vorster se atletiekspan, wat dit vir hom nog makliker gemaak het met die aanbreek van die rugbyseisoen.

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  6. @tzavosky: I was saying to someone a few weeks back that I’d worked in a small town for a few years and the vibe was so different from the big city. For one thing the small town locals often drove around with one hand on the steering wheel and the other waving to almost everyone they passed on the road.

    In the big cities the bigger high schools have so many feeder schools that it’s quite possible to end up in an u14 team playing alongside complete strangers to start with.

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  7. @PRondersteuner: I know where you’re coming from because the parents who have got in touch with me all fall into this category.

    I think back to when I was 13 going on 14 and I doubt I would have been able to cope with the required adjustment if I had fallen into that bracket, so I take my hat off to those who boys who brave it and stick with it.

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  8. @beet: things are done a bit differently in the country side, but as i have seen with my son the country side schools suffer from an accute case of lack of exposure….

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  9. Again I fail to see the hardships, emphaty and sympathy for someone who for one season,is disrupted for playing with his own age 8-O .If the topic was about the boy who went to school early,age 5 instead of 6 then it was a total differant ballgame.The boy age 14 in gr 7 had the chance to participate at CW the previous year aged 13 where’s in the other scenario the boy must fight for the same privilege aged 12.Again in high school boy A can challenge for spots his own age true out up to CW aged 18 and again boy B must do the same aged 17.Specially in primary school that’s a massive difference,not only on the rugby field but in most other parts of development.On this one except for a brief period in /14 rugby which is debatable,I would argue quite the opposite and say it’s a massive advantage for a boy to start schooling a year later.

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  10. @Grizzly: There’s another side to it, a psychological one. The boy starting school a year later always has to compete against children one year ahead of him, and in his mind may have the perception that he’s participating against older and more streetwise kids, which could be detrimental to his development unless he is mentally really strong.

    I’d say the best time for a child to start school is when he has passed a school readiness test and not simply by what time of the year he was born, as so often happens with kids starting school the year they turn 8.

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  11. I think one year is a small difference between primary school kids depending the exposure.
    We had a midfielder grade 6 playing CW and again grade 7.
    The exposure to proper coaching is the real advantage in primary school.
    High school we still had u13 u14 and u15.
    Every age group was split by birthdays
    Jan to June – grade 8/Std6 pupil u14
    July to Dec – grade 8/Std6 pupil u13
    So we had only two years of age group rugby, then 3 years of open side rugby.
    Where as the u13’s had three years age group rugby and only two years open side rugby

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  12. @Grizzly: Not really. If you’re under 14 in Grade 7, playing with Grade 8 boys, you’re technically a junior to those boys. Remember, at school seniority is determined by grade level, and not by age. This is made worse when those boys are strangers to you.

    The only time I can see it being advantageous is where the primary and high schools are one entity, as is the case with the Border boys’ schools for example. A Selborne Primary grade 7 boy that’s 14 years old will play with Selborne College grade 8 boys that were his team mates the year before. That takes care of seniority being a problem. While if he had to go and play for Cambridge under 14s…it would be a different vibe altogether.

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  13. @tzavosky: Absolutely agree that the children’s best interests are paramount. NOT the school or parent’s interests. Schools & parent’s are many times driven by short term objectives and gains, which can impact negatively in the near or longer future.

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  14. @tzavosky: So I have three sons that is/was in exactly this situation. All three started school a year after their age group due to the ‘school readiness’ test, i.e. late bloomers.

    Two stuck through this situation and took the derogatory remarks and hammering, but the younger boy decided this year he had enough and has stopped playing rugby for this year. He now plays golf and there are no age groups and he seems to enjoy that more. He will play rugby again when he can play at a club as he has the talent. In fact he practices at the club each time they practice. He even tackles the ‘ooms’ and runs circles around them.
    As you correctly stated the psychological impact on the kid one grade lower is often a determining factor.

    As far as I know the u/19 can still play rugby, but not CW as that is u/18. The Virseker Beker is a u/19 competition.

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  15. @Skopgraaf243: So the boys,one started school at age 5 and the other one age 7.They find themselves in gr 7,aged 14 and 12,mixed with the 13 year olds.For the 12 year old(I was one myself, speaking out of experience now)it’s tough competing against the 13 year olds.Althoug I made first team and had a run deep into trials for CW,I would have loved to have a bite at the cherry the next year.That continued well into high school and when my age group was fighting out for places at CW,I was fighting the drill and PT instructers at SAPD training college.Theres obviously advantages,you grow up very fast.

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  16. @Grizzly: There’s another, uglier, side to this where parents register their December baby’s DOB as 1st of January the following year. How they do it I don’t know, but I guess money talks.

    I know of more than one case like this. One of them was in the same year as my son (who is also a December baby), and when my son asked him about this, he asked “How would you like to play against kids almost a year older than you?” My son replied that that was exactly what he did!

    That particular boy was a big kid, while my son was small and skinny, but it didn’t prevent him from playing A team through the ages, and also some first team matches in his matric year.

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  17. @tzavosky: You will always get the rule benders.As for outside rugby,emagine the 12 vs the 14 year old on the rugby field over disagreement…It happened.Like I said,there’s ads and disadvantages attached to both… somewhere thought one has to draw the line somewhere….

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  18. @tzavosky: Those 1st of Jan babies have been a bit of a problem for me here in the WC for a while and to be honest, there have probably been a few 1st of Jan, 2 or 3 years late, cases as well….but apparently poaching is a bigger evil than playing obvious oupas in your teams🧐

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  19. @Ploegskaar: There are two very serious SBR issues which don’t get the attention they should. One is the use of performance enhancers and the other is the over-aged player issue. Apart from being illegal both matters have related safety concerns. They are such touchy subjects though and it’s extremely difficult to obtain the indisputable evidence needed to support specific allegations of wrong-doing/cheating. Schools and authorities have their own dilemmas because it is so costly to root out the problem. Unfortunately usually something very serious has to happen first before changes in approach come about. For now all we can really do is discuss the matters in general broad terms.

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  20. @beet: one year in the early 2010 + jnr CW (u13), an 8th man from a certain southern province caused mayhem. Stories were abound i.t.o. age etc., and I do not think he made any entry into later youth weeks. I believe the specific province won that year, but am not sure :-@

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  21. @Ploegskaar: Because on average between 350 000 to 380 000 late registration of births occur ANNUALLY in SA, ranging from 31 days of date of birth to 14 YEARS after birth!

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  22. @Ploegskaar: Well for a start the over-age issue revolves around a crime being committed. Now the law states that its an offence to register a new born baby more than 30 days after birth but I have never bothered to find out if it was an offence to do so a decade ago. Maybe someone knows. Certainly if a guardian is aware that their child is older than his documentation states and intentionally withholds this information, maybe even profits from it, it is still a misrepresentation, even if the late birth reg was not. This is probably the least offensive means of how an over-aged rugby player ends up in an age-group he should not be in. Obviously falsifying documents, switching documents and other techniques used to misrepresent age amount to more serious crimes. The bottom-line is before accusing someone of committing the crime or being an accomplice to one, its definitely a good idea to have more at your disposal than 20:20 vision or a gut feel.

    I suspect you know the other reason. It stems from this: There is a physically dominant player in a particular age-group rugby team. His physical appearance and sometimes even his motor skills arouse suspicion. The player belongs to one race group. Those parents/spectators who don’t believe he is the correct age for that age-group usually belong to a different race group. The race of the accusers and the accused have the potential to overshadow the perceived age problem if not handled with great care. For the accuser great care would equal a number of things including being sensitive and having evidence/facts to back up the claim.

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  23. @beet: Now we moving towards the real issue…a very sensitive one…. Parents who do and alowe this is stupid and senseless.There can be absolutely no excuse for justjfieing an act like this.

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  24. @beet: Thank you for your carefully considered answer, you must have had cause to give it thought on many occasions in the past. You seem to tender that the matter is a moot point, as authority & will to perform a test is required, which seldom coincide.

    Your point on gut feel & intuition noted, although it sits ill that we can apply it selectively. Spotting talent (or lack thereof) ✔️ Suspecting an age breach ✖️

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