As we await the SA Schools selections it’s always a bit of fun to jot down your own team so here are a few things to consider if you want to be a little more serious about the exercise…
At this stage a lot of us have opinions on who should and perhaps should not be in the mix. If you do pick your own side and want it to be an accurate reflection remember the actual team is probably going to be a 50:50 split in terms of Previously Disadvantaged and Non-Previously Disadvantaged players to use two relatively safe words. :-)
Very few of us actually know what the SA Schools selectors take into account in their decision making. Every year SARU’s budget seems to get a little tighter so they can’t execute many of their desired plans to identify the right players. On the bright side technological and other advancements still take place in SA and these no doubt improve the networking and put SA Schools decision-makers in better positions each year to know who the school rugby circuit star players are (if those officials choose to do their homework or work with the accessible data). Also SARU is still able to arrange various camps and other training sessions for earmarked (“elite”) players over various age-groups along the way. So come Craven Week selectors should know stuff that we as members of the general public generally don’t.
So the question here is what do you reward? Do you look only at current form and fitness of players at the Craven Week or do you want to look at form over a longer period of time and factor in injured players who might return to full fitness? Also do you hand an advantage to “elite” players in positions where the calls are tight to make? These are important criteria because I have seen a few good selection deserving players not do themselves justice at Craven Week over the years while in other cases a few sleepers during the season have really come to live and hit their straps at the right time.
It’s also worth noting that there is an international under-18 test series to be contested. Picking your team might even shift the focus towards selecting the kind of team you believe will succeed in winning all their games. Some of you who know me well will know where I’m going with this. Size matters in my books. Not in all positions but as an overall package I believe you do not want to go into battle with a small team. For those who think SA is obsessed with size, yeah you can get away with the argument to an extent but do yourselves a favour, browse over the stats of the test players from the recent New Zealand – British & Irish Lions series. It will give you perspective that rugby caters for a few small players here and there but is definitely not a small man’s game at the higher levels.
Just so it doesn’t come across as if I’m contradict myself here I want to add that I am a strong believe of keeping the school game pure, meaning I believe it’s a game played in their spare-time after school by full-time students and therefore the rewards should go to the achieving students who play rugby. Sadly there are a lot of people out there who think school rugby is for semi-pros who attend school classes on the side. Back to the point about size, whether I or anyone else likes it or not, there is a realisation that Craven Week and SA Schools is an intersecting point between schoolboy rugby run by the schools and pro rugby run by SARU and the respective Rugby Unions. With regards to rugby the entities have different objectives and value systems. For SA Schools, SARU’s objectives will have the overriding say.
I added this because we all do it at some stage. We measure the success of past SA Schools teams by the number of Springboks they produced. It’s not an accurate conversion assessment for a whole bunch of valid reasons but we love doing it anyway. I think it does add to the pressure. The last thing the selectors or you would want to do is pick a squad of SA Schools players who end up going nowhere in senior rugby. More immediately two years done the line, many of the same core group compete for Baby Bok under-20 squad places. The under-18 internationals do serve a purpose in that under-20 development path. This eye on the future is one area where being a selector or SARU official provides a massive advantage over those of us with only game-time knowledge of the players because they ought to know something about the players’ personalities. Character is a big deal. At school level a player can still get away with reliance on talent. After school talent will only get the same player half way to where he wants to be. His willingness to work his butt off accounts for the other 50% of standing a chance of fulfilling his dreams and/or making it to the pros one day. Improving the conversion success rate goes hand in hand with selecting players who show positive signs of having the right kind of self-discipline.