In the last week or so, several of my different interactions with individuals scattered around South Africa who are actively involved in schoolboy rugby and vastly experienced on the subject, touched on a common subject – the formulation of a super schools league for the top rugby schools in the country.
It’s not a new idea. There has been talk about it for quite a few years now. However what may have been just a pipe dream, could become a reality soon.
There are a number of contributing factors which are beginning to give the concept a lot more momentum now.
Certain schools are becoming too strong for rivals in their respective regions.
These stronger schools tend to be a cut above the rest because they attract and/or acquire better players. They share other things in common as well like aiming to conduct their rugby programmes in as professional a manner as possible, without necessarily turning professional and a willingness to invest substantially amounts in rugby structures and players. The end result is they tend to lack enough true competition in their local regional leagues to fill their domestic seasons. In some regions there are already a few decent rugby schools that avoid or have officially opted out of playing these powerhouse rugby schools. A super schools league would offer a much better strength versus strength challenge, which would have the knock-on effect of improving the players and the standard of play through the higher level of competitiveness.
Disillusioned senior rugby fans who still love rugby
Senior professional rugby in South Africa is going through an increasingly challenging time. Financially it is not in a good position and things look like they are going to get worse rather than better. This has a direct impact on the quality player drain as the top pros leave, even at young ages to earn more money abroad.
Then there are other opinions such as:
* the ultra-conservative coaching techniques leading to unentertaining playing patterns, teams underachieving and players underperforming,
* political objectives which prioritise or create the impression that it favours addressing inequalities of the past over merit when it comes to team selection,
All seem to be adding to rugby supporter apathy.
Yet SA remains a rugby loving country. Schoolboy rugby offers those masses a chance to reconnect with the game played by top age-group players in the spirit and form that made fans fall in love with rugby in the first place. Currently schools attract reasonable sized crowds and occasionally decent broadcasting audiences. However on a more organised and well-marketed scale like a national super schools league, there is potential to overtake senior pro rugby on all fronts in terms of playing a better brand of rugby, attracting a bigger audience, obtain bigger sponsors including TV broadcasting deals and with that turning out to be very lucrative for the schools involved.
There would be a few critical decisions to be made regarding the distribution of income in respect of players, academic study time versus rugby time and possibly reaching an agreement on quota so that it falls in line with government’s transformation objectives. There are probably numerous other things that will have to be considered as well.
Senior rugby in South Africa has benefitted tremendously from the large scale player involvement at school level. There is lots of opportunity for cream to rise to the top. Also the more time a player is given to develop in a good structure, the more certainty is obtained about his potential to make a career out of rugby. Limiting those options because of the divide created by a super schools league which only caters for a handful of players, could have detrimental consequences.
At this stage the schools likely to be included in a super schools league would be:
2. Boland Landbou
4. Grey College
5. HJS Paarl Boys’ High
7. Paarl Gymnasium
8. Paul Roos
and possibly between two and four others depending on the criteria and format of the super league.