Have we crossed the line?

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks on 20 Oct 2010 at 11:47
Tagged with : , , ,

A recent article by Dan Retief on Frik du Preez and what the game of rugby means, or meant to some folks, have prompted me to ask if rugby as a professional sport, has crossed the line.

Rugby romantics will love Dan Retief’s article.  It is probably the very reason the current generation of rugby supporters started following the game of rugby, where the ethos and camaraderie means a hell of a lot more than the money in the game.

Here you had some of the legends of the game of rugby in South Africa, travelling far and wide to join the man who was voted as South Africa’s player of the Century in celebrating his 75th birthday.  You had guys that played with and against him, and even legends of another generation of players who followed in Oom Frik’s footsteps.  The common denominator, they are all legends, and they all played during rugby’s amateur days.

Rugby of course had to move the professional route, and a new generation is waking up and beginning to follow and play the game of rugby, ones who will perhaps not share our passion and camaraderie with the game even as simple supporters, but a generation influenced by what now makes the rugby world go round – money.

It might be disrespectful, even patronizing if I was to suggest it is our duty, as the last amateur generation of the game, to teach our kids the ethos of the game, but I don’t think it will be out of line to question the ethics of players, administrators and more importantly, parents of these kids when it comes to embracing professionalism as a reality, but not the foundation the game is built on.

A recent SA Rugby Magazine article highlighted the apparent poaching that is going on in the game of rugby in South Africa.  Nothing new I know, but when this article referred to poaching and player recruitment at schoolboy level, we should become very concerned.

Unlike the article I will not take a dig at any individual school mentioned, but rather look at this new phenomenon as a whole.

Rugby is quite simply a game reliant on passion.  Passion for your team, passion for the jersey, and passion for its rich heritage and history.  Without this, rugby means nothing.

In the very same issue there was another feature of rugby being played in a USA military camp, where the game is used not only to prepare soldiers and equip them with the skills of making quick, efficient decisions in an ever changing dynamic such as the front-lines of war-zones, but also to form a camaraderie amongst these men and women that nothing will ever be able to break or change, not even death.

It is the same camaraderie Dan Retief highlights in his column where decades after these men stopped playing the game, they still make an effort to get together from all over the world, to celebrate the different individuals achievements and even hardships, as a recent initiative to support another Bok legend, Tiny Naude showed, where legends of the game came together to raise funds for their brother in arms who has fallen ill in recent years.

What has become of this ethos and camaraderie if we sell our kids off like cattle to the highest bidder, some of whom have just entered their teen years?

Can we honestly expect this generation of players and even supporters to one day grow up and still write about or discuss events such as we see today with Oom Frik and Tiny Naude?  Will we even see John Smit and Victor Matfield 40 years from now to get together and celebrate one another’s birthday – two team mates that have formed such a tight bond over the last 6 years?  Like Dan Retief, I am not so sure…

Professionalism in rugby is a reality, and in my opinion even necessary, but not at the expense of what the game stands for, and what it is build on.

We have been given the warning signs in recent years with a certain breed of players, administrators and even journalists which have been created given the nature of the game and how professionalism has changed it.  But once we start corrupting our kids, the future custodians of the game, we have crossed the line.


  • Too true. Like the B&I Lions who refused to socialize with the Bokke after the games. It spoils the fun.

    And the trading of school kids is just bloody ridiculous.

  • Comment 1, posted at 20.10.10 12:01:13 by PTAShark Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Great article. When I use to play in the Lowveld league, we only did so for the free beer afterwards and entertain the the local lasses with our ‘war’ stories, but when I moved and played for a bigger club in Joburg where you got payed for playing, a lot of the enjoyment was replaced by seriousness as it became more of a job than a hobby

  • Comment 2, posted at 20.10.10 12:07:34 by KingRiaan Reply

  • “Professionalism in rugby is a reality, and in my opinion even necessary, but not at the expense of what the game stands for, and what it is build on.” So true! The values gleaned and the ethics of what it means to be a member of the team, are far greater than super stardom. Players should never be greater than the game or the team. But I suspect this is also a side effect of the birth of rugby as a professional sport. Once it settles down, we’ll see fewer hissy fits and precious super stars and more and more we’ll see the role models returning to the fore. I hope…

  • Comment 3, posted at 20.10.10 12:27:50 by rugbypedia Reply

  • Don’t know if I agree with the statement re John Smit and Victor though.
    Otherwise I see the point you are making, and it is a valid one.

  • Comment 4, posted at 20.10.10 12:54:57 by Crock Reply

  • One more point. Professionalism of the game in SA is not the same as it is elsewhere. I don’t want to get into a political debate (and with site rules in mind), I don’t think we can apply our own SA logic to that that takes place in Australia or NZ. Administrators and journalists are doing their jobs elsewhere (sometimes crap too), but usually without political ramifications or intent.

  • Comment 5, posted at 20.10.10 13:05:40 by rugbypedia Reply

  • Great article Morne, and raises an age old debate about professionalism in sport, and I will be the first to agree with you about school kids , but it also raises the question are kids who do not go to the “Grey Bloems” of the world, ever going to make it? Sure a lot of kids do, but 90% of them will have gone to a traditional rugby school and would have benefitted from this. I use Pretoria Boys High as a point in case, where the headmaster steadfastly refused to go the professional coach or bursary route and they were competitive, but I can tell you that they were falling behind the other schools, and it was not for lack of talent, but a lack of professional coaching, after their stalwart coach of many years, Paul Anthony, left to coach the u19 Blue bulls (yet another result of pro rugby). So what to do, stay with the principle or fall behind, a difficult choice and one forced upon us by pro rugby. I believe we can still have the camaraderie of Rugby, but it will never be the same as when things where amateur, it can’t be there are to many factors at stake, we are talking about someone’s livelihood, he is not going to laugh off a silly mistake, which could cost him money or even his job, at the end of the day. So we will just have to grow old gracefully and say things like “In the good old days!!”

  • Comment 6, posted at 20.10.10 13:07:36 by Whindy Reply
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  • @Whindy (Comment 6) :

    You are forcing me to name some schools now! 👿

    Grey Bloem are named in the article mentioned as one of the worst offenders in this regard.

    My personal opinion, once we trade our kids as cattle, we are crossing the line – there should be set and clear guidelines and massive fines and/or punishment for any school making themselves guilty of this.

    We need to find a balance, and for me this is one area which we need to find it in, and quickly.

  • Comment 7, posted at 20.10.10 13:13:12 by Morné Reply
  • The questions of saturation ..too many games too many tournaments will dilute the memories …

    whereas back in the day it was rare and Very memorable.

  • Comment 8, posted at 20.10.10 13:14:12 by CoffeeShopBok;-) Reply

  • @Morné (Comment 7) :

    Monnas has been doing it for years.

  • Comment 9, posted at 20.10.10 13:16:34 by CoffeeShopBok;-) Reply

  • @Whindy (Comment 6) : Good points and written with heart.

    I have to say I am not too concerned if a few schools becoming known for their rugby. They’ve always existed and it should continue. But I agree with Morne that we don’t want to trade the kids like cattle. There needs to be a balance. This is about that balance being disrupted, and crossing the line.

    But I think we should not go into the future with eyes shut clinging to the past. We need to embrace what is happening, because in our later years, these will be the ones we will look back on and talk about. And yes, I believe big Vic and Smitty will be blowing birthday candles out together for years to come. A rugby romantic? Maybe…

  • Comment 10, posted at 20.10.10 13:22:53 by rugbypedia Reply

  • @CoffeeShopBok;-) (Comment 9) : They are not the only ones . I name Grey Bloem, because I was recently made aware of their rugby budget, and it is more than most schools budgets, let alone budget just for rugby. They are also not the only ones, either, which makes it very sad for the rest of the schools. I can tell you it is now wide spread and if your school does not have a programme, they will lose talented kids to the likes of Grey, who have talent spotters all over the country. Craven week for junior schools is one of the worst places for this, where talented Kids are grabbed and offered Bursaries.

  • Comment 11, posted at 20.10.10 13:25:58 by Whindy Reply
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  • @CoffeeShopBok;-) (Comment 9) :

    Another culprit that was also mentioned.

  • Comment 12, posted at 20.10.10 13:26:10 by Morné Reply
  • @Whindy (Comment 11) :

    A shock to most here will be that the name of Gary Teichman was even mentioned as one such individual who is used to recruit and/or convince kids/parents to join certain schools…

  • Comment 13, posted at 20.10.10 13:27:44 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 13) :

    My personal feeling is that such a trend would be very difficult to manage.Lets be honest if you are from a poor background and offered an opportunity to go and play rugby for an Elite rugby school then the chances are the kid will go.

    I’d hate to think the under the table money going around to either get a player to your school and arrange representation for the player afterwards to a specific Union or Varsity ..

    I recall back in the late eighties it was common to offer post matric to good players.

  • Comment 14, posted at 20.10.10 13:35:22 by CoffeeShopBok;-) Reply

  • @CoffeeShopBok;-) (Comment 14) :

    I did one, in the 90’s… 😈

  • Comment 15, posted at 20.10.10 13:36:30 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 15) :

    Nice .. 😀 treated like a rock star for that year Im sure 😉

  • Comment 16, posted at 20.10.10 13:40:23 by CoffeeShopBok;-) Reply

  • @CoffeeShopBok;-) (Comment 16) :

    Best year of my life!

  • Comment 17, posted at 20.10.10 13:44:26 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 15) : When you dop matric you’re not allowed to call it post-matric. 😉 😈

  • Comment 18, posted at 20.10.10 13:52:10 by McLovin Reply

  • This might be shocking to some, but some school players parents are demanding a salary for their kids to play for the school. There some schools in KZN that do this too, and it was the only reason why some schools scrapped the school rugby log.

  • Comment 19, posted at 20.10.10 13:52:17 by Mocho Reply

  • Lets see. XYZ school (which I could never afford) approaches me and offers my son a Rugby scholarship and a first class education. You know what? I’ll take that thank you very much.

  • Comment 20, posted at 20.10.10 13:55:19 by rugbypedia Reply

  • @rugbypedia (Comment 20) : So would just about everyone I reckon.

  • Comment 21, posted at 20.10.10 13:57:08 by McLovin Reply

  • @rugbypedia (Comment 10) : The schools who we are talking about, are now so strong that they almost play in a super league (Paarl Gym, Paul Roos etc), but the thing that irritates me more that anything, is that Grey were pretty awesome without it and I can tell you this through first hand experience, I played them for 5 painful years and marked Jaco Reinach, who took huge pleasure in running over me. So Why the bursaries??

    My other bug bear comes back to the amateur/professionalism question and it is the poor kid who played a team all the way up to first team level, only too have his place taken by some superstar import, to him being part of the first team was the climax of his rugby career, he would not have made it in top flight rugby, only to have it destroyed by an import, who had no idea of the spirit of playing for that team and that is why I hate the idea of school kids being traded. The cost of Professionalism!!

  • Comment 22, posted at 20.10.10 13:58:55 by Whindy Reply
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  • Yes, rugby has changed. Professionalism brings better rugby, but also changes the reason people play or are involved in the game.

    Like everything in life, there is some good and bad – its finding the right balance that matters. For example, rugby bursaries can also open up doors for kids with no other routes.

  • Comment 23, posted at 20.10.10 14:00:45 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Morné (Comment 13) : Hilton? Hardly a big rugby school…

  • Comment 24, posted at 20.10.10 14:01:15 by robdylan Reply
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  • @rugbypedia (Comment 20) : IMO I think that students have to be in a school for a minumum should only be allowed to play for the 1st team. If there is an exception, the education department should give a letter of approval

  • Comment 25, posted at 20.10.10 14:02:04 by Mocho Reply

  • @Mocho (Comment 19) :

    Salaries , Id settle for half of the school fees and a free super M (rasberry) and a toasted cheese from the tuckshop 😎

  • Comment 26, posted at 20.10.10 14:03:01 by CoffeeShopBok;-) Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 21) : Agreed, its an opportunity, who wouldn’t. Whether that makes it right or not is debatable, especially in so called institutions of educations, who teach our children the so called values of life??

  • Comment 27, posted at 20.10.10 14:03:11 by Whindy Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 24) They have a huge rugby Scholarship available.

  • Comment 28, posted at 20.10.10 14:04:44 by Whindy Reply
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  • @McLovin (Comment 18) :


  • Comment 29, posted at 20.10.10 14:05:22 by Morné Reply
  • @Whindy (Comment 27) : True, bit of a difficult one that. 😐

  • Comment 30, posted at 20.10.10 14:08:16 by McLovin Reply

  • @Whindy (Comment 27) : Also interesting that so much value is attached to performance on the sports fields (school & uni) when one would expect their primary function to be academics.

    College football in the US for instance is huge & supposedly amateur the way I understand it.

  • Comment 31, posted at 20.10.10 14:12:20 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 31) : I think its a prestige thing more than anything else, plus it attracts pupils. Fathers who think their kids are good rugby players would send their kids there. Then there is the “OLDBOY” factor, where old boys judge the success of the school on its rugby team. Quite sad but very true.

  • Comment 32, posted at 20.10.10 14:23:09 by Whindy Reply
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  • I guess now that rugby is a career, it changes things considerably in schools. Just as kids have always had to fight for their spots in the universities, they now have to fight for their spots on the rugby fields as well. This I understand. And just as schools have fought to get the most A students in and out their doors, so too will they fight to attract the most rugby talent. I understand this, but I agree with most of you here, we don’t have to like how it is managed. there are surely better ways.

  • Comment 33, posted at 20.10.10 14:29:15 by rugbypedia Reply

  • i played rugby as an amateur and my son is playing u19 rugby for the lions and uj. as an amateur i belive it is our responsibility to teach our children the ethos and comraderie of rugby. the friends you make, cross generations, as well as provinces and countries. we just have to strike a balance and ensure that players are not isolated from the people who pay their salaries (the fans) my sons biggest fan is his grandfather (76) their love for the game of rugby spans 3 generations. proffesionalism can learn from amateurs

  • Comment 34, posted at 20.10.10 16:45:56 by prgdad Reply

  • when do you become a pro? i know of aschool that “recruited” 4 junior craven week players, all 1 position. they made up the u14 a,b,c, and d team.

  • Comment 35, posted at 20.10.10 16:56:41 by prgdad Reply

  • @prgdad (Comment 34) : I think that works well for the guys who have fathers and brothers who have played the game at a high level and fortunately there are still a reasonable number of those. Not all young players have that support system, though.

  • Comment 36, posted at 20.10.10 17:29:02 by robdylan Reply
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  • I actually think the way we look at rugby in terms of the past is holding the game back.

    Rugby is not a game, it is Sports Entertainment. I pay, they play and they better play well or I won’t pay next time. Now there is a difference between playing with heart and losing and just losing, the magic that happens when one plays with heart is tangible, and no supporter or fee-payer will be upset if they lose to a better team.

    However to think that it starts and ends with pure rugby is holding back the game in many areas as the management of many of our teams are ‘old rugby men’. They can’t grasp the notion that the entertainment value is the key and we are competing with 3d Tv’s home theatres and getting a beer from the fridge.

    Treat it like the entertainment it is, bring in the new crowds with a new marketing scheme and then reap the rewards of clubs and Unions putting money into the schools where rugby is developed. Grassroots level help is NOT going to come from government so large revenue from a new audience is needed to develop the game. In case rugby people haven’t noticed, the vast majority of the country doesn’t watch rugby. This needs to change.

    Even the attitude to the new Stadia in some ways shows the old-regime mentality we have towards rugby. The Dallas Cowboys just spent 1.2 BILLION dollars on a new stadium complete with a 300 million dollar 4 side tv suspended from the roof. Why? Because they knw they are sports’ entertainment and they need to get people off the couch and to the games.

    Why is Kings Park half empty at a semi final – because half the rugby support in Durban has left for Cape Town or Auckland and we are not developing new markets.

    And if it starts at school, then it is just doing the exact same thing all sports, professions and other are doing, recruiting the brightest minds, the toughest athletes, the best for greater things. Rugby is no different.

  • Comment 37, posted at 20.10.10 17:34:03 by goyougoodthing2 Reply

  • @goyougoodthing2 (Comment 37) : Got to agree with you. Although is the rugby culture thats makes us different from soccer. After a game we all shaking hands in rugby. After a soccer game they all beating each other up. The way to go is to find the balance between rugby culture and the entertainment factor that you mentioned above.

  • Comment 38, posted at 20.10.10 18:08:04 by Mocho Reply

  • @Mocho (Comment 38) : Totally. The culture of rugby is special, if that is nurtured in terms of junior school and at club level, even the superstars won’t forget (at least the ones that are true superstars).

  • Comment 39, posted at 20.10.10 18:11:39 by goyougoodthing2 Reply

  • @Mocho (Comment 38) : this is an ignorant post…do you watch any football?!

  • Comment 40, posted at 20.10.10 18:34:03 by Megatron Reply

  • funny that some here are ignotantly making comparisons to football re the article & the ethos of the game, when just YESTERDAY one of the best managers in modern football was moaning about a player ostensibly demanding more money. 🙄

    “In front of a packed news conference,
    Ferguson was nothing like his sparky self as
    he read from a prepared statement, saying
    in March Rooney talked about staying at
    United for life and how he had no idea
    what had changed the striker’s mind.

    As a man who combined his early playing
    career with a job on the River Clyde
    shipyards, it seems Ferguson has never
    entirely come to terms with the mind-
    boggling financial rewards of the modern
    game and its effect on players.

    Even in his early years at United, the club
    still farmed young players out to stay in the
    modest guest houses surrounding their Cliff
    training ground, where trusted adults kept a
    keen eye on their charges and ensured
    curfews were observed.

    These days United’s teenaged signings earn
    enough each year to buy those houses
    outright several times over.

    “There is a disappointment a lot of the time
    when you have to deal with modern-day
    players,” Ferguson said.

    “It’s not as easy as it was many, many years
    ago when you were negotiating a contract,
    because then the player had to depend on
    and trust the manager. And as a manager,
    you had more contact with the parents then
    as well.

    “We are dealing with agents who live in the
    pockets of players… we live in a different
    world now and we have to deal with it in a
    different way. It’s a pity but it’s there.”

    Of course, as he bemoaned the lack of
    loyalty among modern players, Ferguson
    overlooked the fact that Everton, who
    brought Rooney through their ranks before
    losing him to United as an 18-year-old, were
    similarly frustrated when the Old Trafford
    club came along waving their chequebook
    six years ago.”

  • Comment 41, posted at 20.10.10 18:43:33 by Megatron Reply

  • @Megatron (Comment 40) : Yes I do. I’m talking about hooliganism, it does exist to a degree in rugby, but not as much as football. An ud-educated neautral who does not know anything about the two games with have taught it was the other way round.

  • Comment 42, posted at 20.10.10 18:53:36 by Mocho Reply

  • @Mocho (Comment 42) : the funny things is gygt made an example about the dallas cowboys but you saw fit to make your comparison with soccer! How do rugby fans compare to gridiron fans in terms of culture?

    Would it be fair to say rugby fans are louts compared to tennis fans?

  • Comment 43, posted at 20.10.10 19:26:47 by Megatron Reply

  • The other thing that needs to be addressed in SA Rugby is the two arms of the various Unions.

    For example in Durban we have the commercial arm, The Sharks PTY and also the KZNRU that handles the amateur side of things.

    The Sharks are profitable and it seems the KZNRU are always fighting with clubs, sub committees, recently a charge of racism too (managed I thought from insiders with ulterior motives..).

    Now if this all fell under the umbrella of The Sharks, whose revenue is the only reason any of them have jobs, surely this would dictate policy in terms of profit, loss, development, marketing etc without being held back by the ‘amateur’ requirements.

    It would of course, be in the best interests of The Sharks and other Unions to run clinics, develop the game, work with schools etc etc to unearth talent, but managed the way a business is run.

    In my experience anything run by a committee is doomed to not only failure, but mediocrity at best. Scrap it, move on, make a profit, grow the game.

    Time for sentiment is gone and if you want loyalty buy a dog. However it may rub the wrong way, rather embrace it than get left behind.

  • Comment 44, posted at 20.10.10 19:58:29 by goyougoodthing2 Reply

  • Sadly this door has been opened never to be closed again.

    But let’s not kid ourselves, this has been happening for years.
    My centre partner at school got a place at a top rugby school in Paarl in this manner and that was 15 years ago.

    That said rugby is now effectively a trade so if kids can go to a school for that why not for rugby.

    This is also a massive opportunity we’re missing.
    I know quotas is a dirty word but if they were in place at top rugby schools we might see some grassroots development where poor PD kids could get decent nutrition etc.

    Best we can hope for is a NFL style school draft system with salary caps.

  • Comment 45, posted at 20.10.10 20:51:52 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @VinChainSaw (Comment 45) : I’m sure it was cos you made him look good, bro!

  • Comment 46, posted at 20.10.10 20:59:26 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 46) :

    From your lips to God’s ear my good man!

  • Comment 47, posted at 20.10.10 21:32:30 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • Well this debate livened up…

    Some good points made, and as I mentioned in the piece, professionalism is a reality, and necessary – I would hate for us to lose control in this regard however.

    And when it comes to the kids, the people that decisions ultimately rest with, is the parents, and I would have to believe parents will make decisions for their kids in their best interests – and who the hell am I to tell them how to raise them!

  • Comment 48, posted at 21.10.10 08:43:06 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 48) : exactly morne…look @ wandile mjekevu, his mom sent him to Dale junior then they move to East London so he attended Selborne but when KES went shopping for pd players & offered him a bursary, he took it, even though it meant being away from family…
    Andile Jho – SA Schools inside centre – decline the offer from KES and stayed @ Dale and still made the craven week pick & got a contract with the Bulls

  • Comment 49, posted at 21.10.10 10:02:36 by Megatron Reply


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