A former Junior Boks captain says South African rugby has to stop selling youngsters a dream that only 1% of them will be able to achieve.
MyPlayers, the players’ organisation, conducted a comprehensive survey with South African professional rugby players last year.
Senior franchise players, Springboks and Blitzboks were interviewed, while an online survey was sent to all professional rugby players in South Africa.
The results have been published in an insightful report called ‘Voice 2019’.
The former Junior Boks captain’s views form part of the section focusing on players’ career management and personal development.
‘We have to sell a different picture to kids coming out of school,’ he said. ‘This vision to “come play rugby for us, don’t study, and become a Springbok at 20” is a farce. Our coach always says good people make good players. But I recently read in a booklet at a European club that they say good students make good players. You have to be coachable. You have to learn. And that ’s what varsity offers you.
‘Take my career – I went to [name of union withheld] after school because they sold me the best dream of all those recruiting. I was one of 35 U19 contracted players. Of us, only three still play rugby in South Africa. And in all, only four of us still play rugby at all. How many of us graduated from varsity? Not one.
‘How do we measure whether our rugby system is healthy? We could look at the well-being of 40-year-old retired Springboks. How are they doing? The real world only becomes your reality after retirement. Are these ex-players well-integrated back into society? What have they learned? Or has everything just always been given to them on a silver spoon?
‘The pinnacle of your life cannot be where and who you were at 25. But that ’s the dream we’re selling: 1% make it, and the remaining 99% of players keep chasing that elusive dream of the 1%.
‘The actual dream should be this: develop yourself for a long-term career, or go study towards a qualification, be a student, and only at 22 do you decide whether you really want to be a professional rugby player. By that time, you’re a little bit bigger, stronger, smarter, wiser, and you’ve got a tertiary qualification. Then, after playing for two years, at 24, you can reconsider everything again. If rugby is not the career for you, then at least you’ve got an accounting degree or a diploma in nature conservation with which you can move into the next phase of your life.
‘But to cast all your dreams into rugby at the age of 20, 21, just to realise – at 24 or 27 – that the dream isn’t going to happen, is just tough and sad.’