The South African Rugby Union has announced a new set of regulations aimed at controlling the somewhat messy and jungle-like process by which promising schoolboy players are snapped up by provincial unions.
Effective immediately, no union will be allowed to contract a schoolboy player without that player’s home union being informed – and given the option to make a counter offer. The idea here is to counter, to an extent, the “arms race” that has developed, with scouts from the country’s major unions (most often the Blue Bulls) snapping up players from as young as 15 or 16 without the knowledge of the unions in which their schools are located.
To my mind, this is a reasonably positive step, but doesn’t go far enough. Firstly, there seems to be a proviso that the player in question has to be willing to negotiate with his home union. I can quite easily see this loophole being used to shut the door before it’s even opened, in some cases; if a promising boy from Queens or Dale declares at the age of 15 that he simply wouldn’t be open to an offer from Border, then I guess he’s still free to sign up with the Bulls as before.
The other, perhaps more sinister, challenge I see is that this is likely to increase the practice of recruiting via schools; in other words, Unions don’t approach the player directly, but rather work with schools in their area to offer bursaries to promising players before they reach matric. These players (and their parents) are convinced to move to a school within the union they will go on to play for, thus leaving that union free to negotiate whatever contract they like with the player without anybody else being informed or consulted. Far from opening up and regulating the contracting of junior players, this development is likely to drive it even further underground, with shady deals concluded between unions and agents and an ever-younger set of boys (and their naive parents). It’s exactly this sort of “poaching” that led to the embarrassing and ridiculous situation of at least eight over-age boys from the Eastern Cape being brought into schools in KZN without anyone knowing or realising that they were far older than they claimed to be.
Agents and Unions will, from now on, also be precluded from contracting players at Craven Week, which I think is a positive step, but again doesn’t stop them from descending in their crawling masses all over the countless other rugby festivals that pepper the schoolboy rugby calendar. The reality is, far too many boys are already signed up with unions long before Craven Week comes around, with only a handful (typically those whose parents are more savvy) hanging on to weigh up all of their options once the flagship tournament is over.Tweet