Historically, a Springbok rugby players’ journey to the top of the game started at one of the elite rugby schools in South Africa.
The original structure
Previously, schoolboy players would be selected to represent their provinces in the annual Craven Week competitions. The bulk of players selected would be from what can only be termed as the popular, affluent schools. Those schools would include the usual favourites. Grey College Bloemfontein, Monument, Affies, Paul Roos, Paarl Gymnasium….. Generally, the natural progression for those fortunate enough to play for the provincial schools team would be the age group teams of the top provincial unions. There would be casualties along the way, but the best of the playing crop would progress to the Currie Cup teams and the cream eventually to Super Rugby. The world-class players would from that original bunch of school kids selected from the elite playing schools would eventually don the coveted green and gold Springbok jersey.
But what of those players who did not have the privilege of attending one of the elite rugby schools? South Africa remains an unbalanced society, but alternate routes to the top of the game are starting to give players who were not part of the elite system the opportunity to make their presence felt at the highest level of the game.
The extended net
In recent years, two competitions have been added that fit between provincial schoolboy or age-group level and the lower levels of senior provincial representative level. The South African Rand will always struggle against Northern Hemisphere currencies, so casting a wider net to bring more talent in the system becomes more important.
The Varsity Cup has proved to be a major contributor to the Springbok rugby player pipeline. The competition has produced 49 Springboks, 13 of which were selected for the Springbok Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign.
Admittedly, many of those who were selected as Springbok rugby players would have progressed from age-group levels to the Varsity Cup anyway. It does, however, allow for players who were not caught in the age-group structures to catch the eye of senior provincial talent scouts.
The Gold Cup
South Africa’s premier club rugby competition pits each province’s club champions against each other. While it has not yet produced a rich pipeline of players, it does further extend the net to bring players into the system. The type of player who was missed by the provincial age-group and Varsity Cup systems.
Two players used the Gold Cup to revive their rugby 15’s careers. Garth April, now playing for the Sunwolves was in Lions system early in his career. It was his stellar 2015 season playing for Durbanville-Bellville that saw him selected for Western Province that year and then contracted to the Sharks in 2016.
Rosko Specman revived his 15’s career in 2016 with a season playing for Durban Collegians in the Gold Cup. He was signed by the Cheetahs the following year.
Springbok rugby players
To illustrate the point that a widened net is starting to produce Springbok rugby players, we took a look at where the members of the original Springbok Rugby World Cup 2019 went to school. The traditional rugby schools will always be there, but the appearance of (to some) lesser-known rugby schools bodes well for South African rugby. The player pipeline needs to be strong to compensate for the annual churn of top players leaving to be paid in stronger currencies. If players from less popular rugby schools (highlighted in bold below) can be given alternative routes to the top, the game can only continue to flourish.
Schalk Brits (Paul Roos), Lood de Jager (Hugenote, Springs), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Hoërskool Swartland), Eben Etzebeth (Tygerberg High School), Steven Kitshoff (Paul Roos Gymnasium), Vincent Koch (Hugenote, Springs), Siya Kolisi (Grey High PE), Francois Louw (Bishops), Frans Malherbe (Paarl Boys), Malcolm Marx (King Edward VII School), Bongi Mbonambi (St. Alban’s College), Tendai Mtawarira (Peterhouse, Zimbabwe), Franco Mostert (Brits High School), Trevor Nyakane (Ben Vorster, Tzaneen), Kwagga Smith (Hoër Tegniese Skool Middelburg), RG Snyman (Affies), Duane Vermeulen (Hoërskool Nelspruit)
Lukhanyo Am (De Vos Malan High School, King Williams Town), Damian de Allende (Milnerton High), Faf de Klerk (Waterkloof), Warrick Gelant (Outeniqua, George), Elton Jantjies (Florida High), Herschel Jantjies (Paul Roos), Cheslin Kolbe (Brackenfell High), Jesse Kriel (Maritzburg College), Makazole Mapimpi (Jim Mvabasa SS School, King William’s Town), S’bu Nkosi (Jeppe Boys), Willie le Roux (Paul Roos), Handre Pollard (Paarl Gym), Cobus Reinach (Grey College, Bloemfontein), Frans Steyn (Grey College, Bloemfontein)
In a country such as South Africa, Springbok rugby players have an added responsibility of bringing hope to a nation desperate for good news. The best way to help them to do this is to ensure that the system gives players ever opportunity to find their way to the top, irrespective of their social standing.
“Main photo credit”