How many u19s in a school rugby team = too many?

I know for some of you this topic feels like it’s been flogged to death around here so I apologise up front.

I recently viewed a school’s 1st XV squad list for 2019. Based on names I recognised, 11 were returning players with 2018 1st XV experience under the belt. The alarming part was that of those 11, 7 now belong to the under-19 age-group. That’s basically half the team! And who knows there could be more boys turning 19 this year amongst the names I was unfamiliar with.

So it’s prompted me to ask the question:  is there a line to be drawn here?

Should there be a number limitation? Like say a max of 3 under-19s in a team.

Do under-19 players offer an advantage? Personally in most cases I think they do.

Is it right to discriminate against under-19 schoolboys? Mmmm! Probably not. But maybe one has to look a little beneath the surface before jumping to a conclusion here.

I know some very rational people who share a love for schoolboy rugby that fall on both ends of the spectrum on this under-19 participation matter. The one side being 100% in favour of granting unrestricted access to all under-19s to play in all matches including participating in the national youth weeks like in the days pre-2008. On the other end are those who want the open age-group to have an under-18 ceiling, believing under-19’s have had their chance and must pursue their rugby interests outside of school at local rugby clubs. Obviously there are a lot of decent folks who have an opinion that falls somewhere in-between these two extremes.

As things stand the defining term for under-19 participation is “bona fide student”. As long as a student is studying school subjects at the school where he’s registered, he’s basically cleared to play.

For me, I would say that any under-19 schoolboy who’s only been in high school 5 years is categorically acceptable. I appreciate that not every student is an academic and so I’d give the thumbs up to those boys who have been at the same school for a 6th year. However when one starts branching out to situations involving rugby boy recruited from another school later on during his high school career and the same boy being held back a year, then I start to question the legitimacy of what’s unfolding. Here perhaps the underlying motives should determine the eligibility of the under-19 player concerned.

What I’m saying is that when a boy is held back a year to repeat a grade or in some cases even pushed back down a grade for a few months, the decision must have his genuine academic interests at heart and not play second fiddle to what it will mean to the school’s future rugby ambitions.

*Making Craven Week an under-18 tournament has reduced the incentive for kids to stay back a year.
*Schools that pride themselves on achieving the 100% matric pass rate stat every year are motivated to assist their kids to succeed in the classroom, thereby reducing the numbers who grade repeaters.
*While there was a provincial under-19 championship being run for the rugby unions teams, it made it a major disadvantage for an aspiring player to be in school for that last year of eligibility for that stepping stone competition.

So the schooling system has built-in regulators that generally make under-19s on the rugby field the exception rather than the norm.

That’s why a figure like 7 in one team now stands out like a sore thumb.

I’m not saying it’s happened in this case above but we should not turn a blind-eye to the win at all costs mentality that’s plaguing school rugby. It is corrupt at its core, has little interest in competing on level playing fields and so looks to capitalise whenever and wherever it can. It goes against the values educators should be looking to instill in their students.


  1. @beet – what happened to U19 Championship?

    What’s going to happen to school leavers now?

  2. @TheGoose: The u19 championship was canned by SARU for financial reasons. Cost cutting for the RUs essentially. So it was a decision based on crisis management rather than strategic long term planning.

    There will still be a few mainstream u19 players who will benefit from the unions’ HP programs and strength vs strength competition (u21) but that number will be a fraction of what it was before. So either more emphasis will have to be placed on making sure the right opportunities go to the right players or far better development practices need to be employed to make sure those that are chosen have a higher % chance of succeeding. How those school leavers who still want to become self sufficient pros but who find themselves outside the mainstream manage to keep pace(remember it is not just an internal SA measure, its a measure relative to how players in NZ, Aus, Eng, Fra, Ire, Sco and Wal are developed), remains to be seen. There are a few good varsities and a few good clubs to help some. The Bulls have launched a new u20 club rugby initiative as a proactive measure. Who knows things might work out. That will depend on offering affordable quality facilities and coaching. By the looks of things the probability of the SARU decision amounting to a disaster is a lot higher.

  3. @Beet: I can’t help but think that the scrapping of the U19 CC will have a knock effect and create headaches with regards to U19 boys spending an extra year at school. I hope I am wrong.

    On the subject at hand – I personally am not too fussed about numbers, but more about reasons. As you’ve correctly pointed out,there can be 19 year olds with 5 years in high school, and some may be academically challenged and may have been there for 6. My view is that there is not scientific proof that corroborates the notion that a schoolboy team with u19s has an advantage over one with u18s. Why i say this is that a year earlier, that game would have been an u17 vs u18 game…both are now a year older. Is there a major jump in development of a schoolboy from 18 to 19? There is of course a different story to tell if those u19s are mercenaries.

    Long story short, schools have different make-ups. Rural based schools due to the academic quality of learners in their catchment areas are likely to have more kids who matriculate at 19, while this is rarely the case for metro schools. That said, a metro school with 7 u19s would definitely make my eyes pop, while a rural-based school with the same number would not make me twitch. With this in mind, a boy that has failed matric and is now under 19…the school would only be doing its duty by “encouraging” him to focus on some extra classes than spend countless afternoons training. Just my view.

    The story of the u19 boy is not one that is easily defined.

  4. The real grey area is pinpointing the purpose of high school rugby. Is it to help develop young men or is it to sell the school or is it to satisfy the egos of a few adults?

  5. Middag almal. In belang van ons seuns wat rugby wil speel en SA rugby sal ons ernstig moet oorweeg om skole rugby regdeur die bank n onder 19 liga te maak. Ek weet dit bring nuwe uitdagings, maar as jy n jaar langer op skool wil deurbring wie is ons om dit af te keer? Net my mening.

  6. @Playa: agree that all depends on the context. Parktown boys in Joburg regularly have quite a few u/19’s in the 1st team squad. Has never been an issue when Helpies played against them. Their sportmans’ spirit is also excellent, wether they win or lose.
    On the other hand I can recall some pill popping individual/s from east rand that clearly wanted to only promote their personal agenda/s.

  7. I do not value any player that excells just because they developed earlier or a year older than the most competitors. If all under the radar, no problem. But Just does not seem fair if there is huge fuss made about a player and they standing out because of one year more of development.

  8. By allowing U19 to play at school the situation is created where a 16year old plays againts a 19year old, in some cases with almost a 3 year age difference, leading to an unfair advantage and possible injury. Keep school rugby at U18 and let the U19 play in the U20 league.

  9. @Corn van der Watt: Boksmart sorted that out. U16s cannot play with u19s. So that’s not an issue. Question is… If an u16 can play with u18s, why can’t he play with schoolboy u19s when he’s u17 the following year?

  10. The age-banding allows for a 16 year old to play against a 19 year old in school rugby as long as the 16 year old will turn 17 in the calendar year and the 19 year old turned 19 in the same calendar year. It is very rare to find a 3 year age gap. The mean is closer to a 2 year age gap.


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