Sport

Side Entry: Why SA Rugby was right to exclude Europe-bound youngsters from schools teams

2019-07-21 08:00

If ever you wanted to see what wanting your bread buttered on both sides looked like, former Proteas captain AB de Villiers’ protestations via a statement last week about not demanding to be selected for the recently concluded World Cup would be a good example.

Ever the crowd pleaser, De Villiers – arguably South Africa’s greatest batsman so far from a skills and aesthetics perspective – wanted to fix his dented popularity by voicing how hurt he was at the insinuation that he’d demanded to be reinstated to the Proteas squad at the eleventh hour, having quit the team the year before.

De Villiers particularly objected to the use of harsh words such as ‘arrogant’ and ‘selfish’ in the interpretation of his suddenly wanting back into the Proteas, when selfish is the first word that comes to mind regarding someone who leaves a team in the lurch in a World Cup year, insists he won’t come back and promptly asks to come back for one last shot at glory.

This week’s outrage about youngsters Kade Wolhuter (Paul Roos) and FC du Plessis (Grey College) not being selected for either the SA Schools or the SA Schools A squads because they’ve signed contracts with French rugby sides is another case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Wolhuter’s mother has apparently come out and said her son was being victimised for signing a three-year academy deal with Montpellier.

Wolhuter is the better rated of the two young fly halves (Du Plessis is off to Toulon), and there appears to be a groundswell of opinion that Wolhuter should have been given one last chance to peddle his wares in national team colours in the two junior teams’ series early next month.

The problem with that sentiment – and sentiment is an important word here – is that SA Schools sides are no longer ceremonial sides.

Making the SA Under-18 side sets a player on a path to representing the SA Under-20 team, and hopefully even higher honours.

This is the same Baby Boks team that has frequently come short at international level because its players tend to only start playing together in the warm-up games immediately before their annual world championships, while most of their serious opponents have been playing in formal tournaments like the Six Nations.

So, while some may see the matches against England, Argentina, France and Wales as an opportunity to brag over a braai that they once wore the green and gold, it is necessary international experience for the player headed to the World Rugby Under-20 Championships.

And, by indulging Wolhuter – a player who, if he is as good as they say he is, will probably end up playing for France – SA Rugby would have been denying another player who would kill to play his rugby locally for much-needed international experience.

An example of how not having a deliberate plan in picking an SA Schools side can bite you in the backside is that the SA Under-20 side this year went to the world championships without a recognised fly half.

Every year, SA Rugby gets hammered for not planning as well as the rest of the free world.

When it picks teams based on long-term availability and cutting their losses, they still get attacked just so the latest starlet can be indulged.

Since the advent of the new contracting system in rugby, making the SA Schools side has become very important for youngsters as it goes a long way towards determining whether they get one of the few junior contracts offered in a country with a collective tight budget and no under-19 tournament.

If they don’t, they have to work their way back into the mainstream via the relative backwaters of the Varsity Cup and club rugby.

To take that opportunity away in favour of a kid who’s guaranteed to play for a big-name French outfit and earn Euros for at least the next three years makes no sense.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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August 18 2019