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Ken Borland

Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken


The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.


5 to “Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them”

  1. AE TREDOUX says:

    Great article…they must also look at the way they appoint coaches.

    • Ken says:

      Thank you!
      Yes, we definitely need more quality coaches & a better succession plan with better assistant coaches at national level. Another area that Saru should be sorting out, via their high-performance unit. Pity Rassie Erasmus isn’t around, I would ask him for details on what he actually achieved during his 4 years as Director of Rugby …

  2. Bruce Strachan says:

    Saru should start at primary school level like grade 1. It is only the Afrikaans schools who really nurture rugby. Traditionally English schools prefer soccer.

  3. Thanks for a very interesting article. Don’t underestimate the hype in New Zealand school boy rugby. Schools recruit using scholarships and will even do so from the Pacific Islands. There is plenty of effort going into winning the inter-schools trophy with school boy matches screened on TV sponsored by Land Rover. Personally, I believe it to be an unhealthy approach at school level as schools strive to be the best within their region often through pinching players from other schools. The emphasis goes onto the ego of winning rather than education through enjoyment in playing at that level. School boys are recruited for post-school franchises.

    It does strike me that coaches in this country work collectively towards All Black performances. I am by no means close to the action but top coaches do make themselves available at lower levels so their knowledge and expertise is disseminated through the levels. Each sport has its own structure of coach qualifications with Sport New Zealand having its own Coach Approach philosophy.

    South Africa needs to draw on the administrative and coaching resources it has available. The likes of Nick Mallett, Jake White and others could contribute significantly to a co-ordinated approach. Somehow there would need to be a move towards greater collaboration between provinces targeting the common good. Not easy especially given the current political environment and the process of transformation.

    I realise that it easy from the depths of one’s armchair. It will be fascinating to watch the game unfold over the next few years.

    • Ken says:

      Thanks very much for your comment and insight into New Zealand rugby Gordon, honoured to have your input on my website!
      I have always admired the tremendous schoolboy coaching you have done and I know the ethos of what you were teaching young talents was just as – if not even more – important as winning in your eyes.

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