The Players Are There But Springbok Structure Is Lacking

From Last Word on Rugby, Kyle Dutton

Having avoided the dreaded pool of death in the Rugby World Cup 2019 draw, the Springboks now have the opportunity to make the most of it. Granted, they are in the same pool as their fiercest rival, the All Blacks, but with Italy, likely Namibia and then one other still to be confirmed, most would assume they’ll finish a comfortable second, thus qualifying for the quarter-finals. In order to progress from there a few significant, yet highly unlikely, changes need to be made to the Springbok structure.

If you happened to watch some of SuperSport’s recent coverage, you will have noticed that South Africa is blessed with superb rugby talent at schoolboy level. The brand of rugby played at these levels is brilliant to watch, since the boys aren’t necessarily big enough to only be used as battering rams and instead need to play into space. Over the past 10 years, the junior Springbok teams have always featured highly, winning many an annual tournament.

Players Entering The Professional Ranks

Players generally enter one of the 16 unions and more often than not, end up playing poorly attended professional rugby for a few years. Coaching in the smaller unions is often underwhelming, forcing youngsters to run at the man, and players are mismanaged, ending up with no formal tertiary education or work experience outside of rugby by the time they eventually retire. This is a generalisation but bear with me.

We have created two tournaments that allow for this not to be the case, namely Varsity Cup and the Gold Cup (which is now part of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge). The beauty of both these competitions is the amateur nature. University players are studying a degree while playing rugby and the majority of the club rugby players have jobs in the formal sector. They play for the love of the game and quite often the brand of rugby is a lot more exciting than the Vodacom Cup used to be, or even the Currie Cup currently is.

The problem is that we are losing talented players because the structures aren’t in place to allow them to flourish. Not only this, but the money involved is not what it used to be because the TV coverage has saturated the market.

Widening The Net

The solution may lie in reducing the number of unions and focussing those efforts on amateur rugby. If SARU took the decision to reduce the number of unions to six, being the current Super Rugby teams, then we could use amateur rugby as the breeding ground for fringe talent. (The reason this will not happen is because each union currently has one vote should a motion be put forward, and voting to reduce the number of unions would be like the turkey voting in favour of Thanksgiving).

The Pros and Cons of Change

But the pros would certainly outweigh the cons and I have listed a few below:

• Creating a larger talent pool of players and coaches
• Players will be forced to either study or find work, naturally allowing for a more balanced individual to transition out of the sport once the time comes
• A better standard of amateur rugby
• Fewer players will be left playing for unions that don’t offer a real future
• Greater community involvement and bigger supporter bases for the clubs and universities
• A chance for amateur rugby supporters to watch Springboks play for their team (If we take a leaf from New Zealand and require that all players returning from injury play at least one game for their home club)

And these are only some of the many advantages. Many of these games won’t be televised so fans will be forced to watch the game live, which is a much better experience for everybody. This could have a knock-on effect for the TV viewership of the Currie Cup and Super Rugby if they do manage to reduce the number of games in those tournaments, and the market becomes less saturated.

This is blue sky thinking, of this I have no doubt, but if something like this does not happen then yes, the Springboks may make the quarter-finals in 2019 but don’t be surprised if they don’t do so in 2023.

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