I will always be a huge supporter of school boy rugby (Grey College), even though my son played hockey and excelled in it. My love for schoolboy rugby has grown only stronger. I still goes to matches on Saturdays, and does not miss a schoolboy game on Supersport. I really do belief that rugby is supposed to be played, as it is played at school boy level, with the emphasize being running the ball.
However, I have a huge problem with the amounts of games played by boys at first team (u/18) level. It is interesting to note that this problem, does not really manifest itself in the powerhouse rugby schools of South Africa. Grey College, Affies, Paul Roos, and Paarl Boys etc. play a lot fewer matches than say a normal high school in Gauteng. Mr. Pierre Edwards, Headmaster at Affies, saw this problem quite a number of years ago, he insisted that fewer games should be played. This is a system that Grey College also follows, they went further by not going to major rugby tournaments during the holidays , and rather gives attention to the inters , during the season.
A normal High School 1st team in the Gauteng (old Transvaal area) will play in the Super series, the Beeld series, their normal leagues of their province, friendlies before the season starts, and holiday tournaments including Easter. Then I am not counting the 7-leagues and tournaments at the end of the year. This means boys between the ages of 16 and 18, play competitive games from the end of February to the end of August. Between 28 and as much as 35 games a season is played. This is absolutely ridiculous, and does not have the boy’s best interest at heart.
I am no doctor, but common sense tells me that a lot of growing takes place between 16 and 18 years of age. It cannot make sense to participate in contact sport, to this extent. Less than 5% of these schools, have the facilities that say a school like Grey College have. Grey College is blessed with world class gymnasiums with full time staff that includes biogenetics, physiotherapist and full time coaching staff. When my son and I went to Grey College the first time, the then principal, the legendary Mr. Johan Volsteedt said the following to us, when showing us the gym. He said, we do not buy Springboks, in here we make them. A fact, no school has produced more Springboks than Grey College in the modern age. The facilities and set ups of Affies, Paul Roos, Glenwood etc. is very similar. They also have programs that is in place to make sure boys are ready when they participate in games. A normal school does not have this.
You only have to watch a game at the end of the season to see the carnage, half the players that started the season is standing next to the field with injuries. The players on the field looks like Elastoplast advertisements. I do belief that is one of the reasons fewer and fewer boys play club rugby after school, the either had enough of playing, or already have long time injuries.
Yes, rugby is a contact sport, and injuries is part of the game. However we are creating chaos with too many games in an effort to be successful. Less games, with more fun, should be the way forward.
If we like it or not, school is a place of learning and rugby is a pastime.