SA rugby’s schools conveyor belt cranks up again
Coach Mzwakhe Nkosi believes players may emerge better rounded after working on extra skills during lockdown
As former SA Schools coach and a man who operated in that environment for four and a half years‚ Mzwakhe Nkosi knows what goes around comes around on the country’s talent conveyor belt.
The production line has been cruelly interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic‚ and as much as the system is hardwired to crank back into action‚ human fragility cannot be underestimated when the switch gets flicked.
“What do you say to a matric who played rugby his entire life and who just wants to be in the school’s first team?” Nkosi wondered rhetorically. “There is so much satisfaction that playing for the first team provides. A lot of emotion goes into it. Now there is a big void in that player’s life.”
The suspension of schools rugby also comes with more significant complications. “There now is no opportunity to market themselves for universities or academies. Those blokes are broken. They are pretty bleak. There is no matric ball and there is so much that is lost‚” Nkosi lamented.
He believes a natural selection process will reveal itself soon enough. The wheat will separate from the chaff in a country that remains one of the globe’s pre-eminent rugby nurseries.
As Nkosi explains‚ the country’s rugby infrastructure and systems will ensure that the top talent flourishes. Coupled to that‚ he argues‚ players who have adapted best to the lockdown will prosper. “The player who really wants to do well will show the mental fortitude and desperation to come through this. We will see that immediately.”
Behind that is a system that can help fast-track talent to where it needs to be. There may be no play but the SA Rugby Union’s elite player development programme is far from dormant.”
In fact‚ Nkosi believes individuals may actually re-emerge from lockdown as better rounded players.
“What lacks in our modern player is rugby EQ and rugby IQ. The lockdown has given players and coaches the opportunity to improve online.
“The type of player that is going to come out of this is the player who focused on those extras. It will be the scrumhalf who can pass properly off the base‚ or who can box-kick with accuracy. The tight forward who isn’t just big and strong but who will be solid in his fundamentals at the set piece.
“Basically‚ it will be the player who has now used his time most effectively.”
In SA‚ however‚ things are never that straightforward and the system might throw up anomalies.
“The 15-year-old was going to play under-16 this season but when he plays again he will probably go straight into the A-side. The last time he would have played would have been at under-15. That is a massive jump in any language.
“You have two choices. The one would be to exercise caution before allowing a player like that to go into the first [team] side. Having said that‚ I would also caution schools retaining matrics who will be doing a postmatric next year from playing.”
Nkosi said while the elite player development programme might sharpen minds‚ a player’s conditioning will need urgent attention when schools rugby resumes.
“I’m confident we will see a steady stream of players coming through the system and that the Junior Springboks will be able to pick from them. All is not lost.”
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