Selection of any team will always have its positive and negative reaction from the rugby public, this is nothing strange in South Africa nor any other rugby nations all over the world.
The past few weeks SA Rugby have firstly announced their Craven Week squad to play in trail matches, and this week they announced the South African Schools team which will play against France, Wales and England in the coming weeks.
People only see these boys in the few games they play at the yearly “Craven Week Tournament” and the assumption is usually that the top teams players at the Craven Week have the inside lane for selection into the SA Schools team.
To understand the selection process and the development that SARU put into our young players we did some investigation into the processes and programs.
The most important thing to note is that all Craven Week squads, from U13 to U18 level, are selected by the school bodies of the various unions and not SARU.
SASRA (South African Schools Rugby Association) is the schools governing body overseeing these various school bodies at union level. Each union selects their own coaches and managers for each Craven Week team from U13 to U18 level. The unions organises their own independent trails, and with their selectors select the teams that will represent them at the various Youth Weeks.
These various schools associations members, coaches and managers are almost exclusively teachers who also coach or coached at schools level.
The first time anybody from SARU really sees any player is at one of these Youth Weeks (U13, U16, and U18). Selectors at these Youth Weeks (U16, U18 Academy and Craven Week) compromise of the two national selectors (Ian Mac & Peter Jooste), the U20 Junior Springbok Coach, and 6 school representative selectors selected by SASRA.
SASRA will always try to have the selectors represent our major regions because they have a more intimate knowledge of players as they see them in school leagues during the year. These selectors are active, or retired teachers of which some of them have also been past coaches of Craven Week teams. Each and every selector in this group has an equal say in the selection process. All selectors attend the U16 Grant Khomo Week, U18 Academy Week and Craven Week. Because the U16 and Academy week run at the same time, the selectors are split up to ensure both weeks are covered.
With the U16 and Academy week the teams play over 3 days with one rest day. Each team plays twice and because there are 20 teams or more, you can have 3 matches at the same time on three different fields which is very challenging for the selectors.
It is only the Craven Week that runs from Monday to Saturday with the Friday as a rest day. All games at the Craven Week except Saturday games are played one after the other on the main field, so that selectors at least get to see all the games at the main tournament.
Players are only really ‘identified’ at U16 and Academy Weeks, meaning the stand-outs are taken note of but there are no squads selected to compete in post Craven Week games. Players from the Academy week do filter into the SA Schools side as it happened in the past.
As far as the tournament itself goes, rules dictate that in all Youth Weeks every single player, from 1 to 22, must be included in the run-on XV in one of the two matches during the week (this excludes the Saturday game at Craven Week). Another stipulation is that you have to have two front rows in your 22 and the same player in the front row is not allowed to play in consecutive games.
Fixtures for these weeks game are decided by the Local Organising Committee (LOC) together with SASRA. The first two days fixtures is based on the strength of the teams in the previous year to try and get a strength vs strength scenario. Days 3 and 4’s fixtures is decided in the evening after each days play.
Selectors are very careful to judge a player because he might come up against a weak opposition team in either 1 or 2 of his fixtures. It is made even more difficult for the selectors with half the team that will start game 1 will not be in game 2 (the seven reserves in game one has to start game 2 as part of the run-on XV). Basically some players will only get 1 game, or 1 and a half games, but most important, just about all your combinations change from 1 game to the next.
Considering the above, the statement made by Jurie Roux during the week makes sense where the kid who has come from the U16 has an advantage over someone who just plays at the U18 Craven Week, the selectors have a better or more intimate knowledge of that player.
There are obvious flaws to the current system and some players will get overlooked, but we are also aware that programmes are currently being put in place to address some of these flaws and cast the net a bit wider than just the Youth Weeks.
To sum up it seems that allot of work is going in behind the scenes from SARU and SASRA to get the best possible players into the selection of any South African Schools side.