In the wake of an investigation conducted by New Zealand Rugby which discovered that school rugby is not in as healthy a state as the image portrayed by their top schools, one of the conclusions arrived is the need to appoint a manager to oversee school rugby structures.
There is a tunnel vision mentality which has taken hold of school rugby. It’s concerned with winning at all costs and how best to attract the top players by whatever means available. Anything that gets in the way of this is collateral damage so to speak.
For years this approach was to the liking of an organisation like the NZR. It certainly made their lives easier if more of the better players were concentrated in a few schools that conformed to the standards and level of competition that the NZR desired. By extension, those non-teachers involved at school age level who earned a keep out of poaching players and promoting professionalism were viewed as friends of the establishment. The unhappy headmasters, teachers, coaches, supporters, students that were on the receiving end were viewed as problem childs standing in the way of progress and who needed to get up to speed with modern times. It is working its way to a point where a school educational fundamental principle like ethics is something that needs to be applied in context and that context definitely needs to exclude rugby.
The tunnel vision meant the big picture was being missed. School rugby participation is declining at an alarming rate. Part of the decline can be attributed to the metamorphosis that rugby has undergone in the last couple of decades which has made it harder for a teenager to rely on his natural build to compete and changes in society brought about technological advancement which has caused distractions.
In the face of this decline in school player numbers, the last thing needed is adding extra fuel to the fire. Fewer schools playing rugby equals an increased chance of quality individuals being lost to rugby. That is a worry but it’s not the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that when a youngster be he an A, B, C, D or lower rugby team player is lost from the sport, the worst case scenario is he develops an interest in a rival sport or activity that eliminates rugby as a focal point in his life. The new interest has the chance to develop into a lifelong passion and along the way potentially draws in the boy’s personal sponsors and support structures in the form of parents, extended family, close friends, maybe his girlfriend and even her friends. These are people that might otherwise have been part of a school rugby culture for several years and in those years developed, renewed or maintained a close bond with rugby. A bond that encourages them to maybe sign up for or renew a satellite TV subscription, buy ground tickets for pro rugby matches, kit themselves in rugby team merchandise and pass that love for the game onto the next generation over whom they have influence.
In a world where money has become the evil that drives rugby and determines the quality of the local professional game, yes it’s important to have good players and good coaches but without a fan base to financially sustain it through their willingness to spend or the appeal they create for big spending sponsors, it’s dead in the water.
Leaving school rugby to its own devices is not a good idea. The overall unhappiness produced by the type of characters who want to dominate its short direction course to benefit their desires and pockets could prove fatal in the long run. In New Zealand, the report said the “lack of an overarching governance body” was a repeated message they received from stakeholders during the review. A body that sits in the middle and works for the prioritised benefit of looking after the big picture, which not surprisingly fits in with the values ethos many schools had built their reputations around.