How SA Rugby have been building the game of rugby from the bottom up. The way they have approached the transformation goals and how the future looks for South African rugby, writes Benedict Chanakira
The media and perception of the general public has been that SARU is not doing enough for development. What does SARU need to do to change this wrong perspective on what is being done for long term development?
SA Rugby is engaged at various levels with a number of programmes. Our involvement starts at U6 Level with World Rugby’s Get into Rugby programme. Last year the Get into Rugby (GIR) programme attracted 84 000 boys and girls in primary schools from around South Africa.
SA Rugby has also successfully launched our Elite Player Development programmes in 2015 which focuses on kids from ages 15 to 18. The programme is split into two areas namely EPD 1 (age 15 and 16) and EPD 2 (age 17 and 18). Players are identified from 15 years-old through a Scout system specifically developed for SA Rugby.
In our first year alone we identified 450 players in the EPD 1 phase from mainly rural areas with the help of our Union Scout Coordinators. These players undergo various assessments, and a group of the top 80 players and the majority of their school coaches were identified and spent a week in Paarl with our SA Rugby Mobi Unit and National Sevens coaching teams where they underwent various tests including conditioning, medical, nutrition and, fitness tests, and participated in position-specific skills assessment tests.
Following this camp each player (and his coach) received a personal intervention report based on the tests with nutrition, conditioning and training programmes to help the players improve in all areas. SA Rugby remains directly involved with both coaches and players following the camp, and has follow-up visits in each province twice a year where the coaches are upskilled and players’ progress is measured.
Phase 2 of the programme (EPD 2) ensures that all the players identified through the scouting process remains in our systems, so that we are able to intervene directly with the players and coaches throughout the crucial development years from 17 to 18 years-old.
SA Rugby is also closely involved with the rugby development programmes of our associate members, which includes:
- SA Rugby Legends
- Coca-Cola Schools of Excellence
- TAG SA
- Touch SA
What are you doing to make sure that other countries do not sign our young players at junior level?
While SA Rugby does not contract junior players directly, our EPD 3 phase ( SA Rugby Academies) focuses mainly on ensuring that players who have been part of phase 1 and 2 remain in our union systems.
We have formed close relationships with our unions who are directly involved with our EPD 1 and 2 programmes, which allows them to keep a close eye on their most talented players and to put the necessary measures in place at an early stage to get them into their Academy systems, which are supported by our EPD phase 3. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that both players and parents feel comfortable that our player pathways do not end once the learners leave school, but that every opportunity is created for players to become professional rugby players in South Africa.
What is SA Rugby doing to maximise the development and the discovery of talent in the country?
SA Rugby has developed an online scouting system and App which has been made available to all provincial unions in South Africa. The App allows scouts to electronically record position specific skills of players (assessments) at games anywhere in the country. Once scouts are able to connect to the internet, this data is synched to our online player management system, Footprint, which allows SA Rugby and the Union Development Coordinators to view the data of players.
SARU also engages the union coordinators through various training and education workshops on player-specific benchmarks according to age and position.
As the National Federation, SA Rugby has access to all data collected from all unions. Once the data is analysed, the SARU EPD Programme Managers engage with their union counterparts to assess and rank scouted players.
The system does not only allow SA Rugby and its unions to identify talent anywhere in the country, but also by proactively identifying any areas of concern nationally, and provincially such as positional depth or low standards of skills. This in turn allows SA Rugby and the respective unions to focus their efforts on areas which might not be a concern now, but may become a problem in future.
Can the GIR phase be explained to the fans?
GIR, or Get into Rugby can best be described as a programme which is built on three progressive fundamental principles or stages, Try – Play – Stay.
The Try phase is focused on boys and girls ages four to seven years-old where the approach is based on Fundamental Movement Skills.
The Play phase is focused on boys and girls ages seven to thirteen years-old where the focus remains fun first, but also an introduction to the values of rugby, principles of the game, evasion and defence and basic rugby skills. This is introduced through various platforms including Tag Rugby, Rippa Rugby, Try Rugby, Rugby Ready, etc.
The last phase of the programme is built to ensure kids Stay in rugby. All of these stages focus on turning values into virtues (solidarity, integrity, discipline, respect, etc.) while an approach of playing to love is preferred over a play-to-win mentality. Another important focus through all the stages is to ensure kids can enjoy rugby in a safe environment where healthy living and eating is encouraged.
While we do not place a large focus on the specific age of players for any specific stage, it is important that players are introduced to the game of rugby through a safe development process:
- a) Active Start
- b) FUNdamentals
- c) Learn to Train
- d) Train to Train
- e) Train to Compete
- f) Train to Win
Stages a to c are focused on primary schools, d and e at senior school level and stage f for school leavers.
The EPD needs to be distinguished? It has four levels, what is stage 4?
EPD stages 1 to 3 and their function have been highlighted above. EPD 4, or the final stage, is to ensure that the very best players are included in our various national teams. This would include the Junior Springboks (South Africa U20 team), Men’s and Women’s National Sevens teams, Springbok A and/or Under-23 sides and ultimately, the Springboks.
Who is in charge of the under 18 High performance squad and their selections?
The U18 High Performance Squad, or SA Schools Squad selection process is made over an extended period through our EPD phase 2 programme and not just in the week(s) of the U18 Coca-Cola Academy Week and Under-18 Coca-Cola Craven Weeks, as is commonly believed.
While our EPD programmes provides us with a wealth of information on a wide base of players SA Rugby relies on the assistance of our Associate Member, SASRA (South African Schools Rugby Association). SASRA appoints six national selectors who work closely with SA Rugby and the SA Schools coaches and EPD Managers.
While the Under-18 Coca-Cola Craven Week is our flagship event to showcase the best U18 players in the country, SA Rugby, with the help of SASRA, ensures that players who missed out on selection either through injury or any other reason, are not forgotten or overlooked. With the wealth of data we have collected from players through EPD 1 and the insight of SASRA selectors, who have established relationships with these players as their teachers or coaches in the various provinces, SA Rugby is able to select the best possible team to represent the SA Schools and SA Schools A sides.
How does SA Rugby identify the next Springbok stars and ensure that they continue to develop and grow as players?
Over the last four years SA Rugby’s Elite Coaching Group (Mobi Coaching Unit and Springbok Coaches) have developed a Rugby Blueprint. The purpose of this document was to ensure that SA Rugby not only documents and protects its Rugby IP, but that this information can be adapted for coaches and players at lower levels.
Two important development initiatives and documents that have resulted from the Rugby Blueprint includes the SA Rugby Selection Policy Manual and the SA Rugby Skills Development Manual.
While SA Rugby will not prescribe to any organisation or individual how to coach at lower levels, we have identified through consultation with various role players that a need for a Rugby Knowledge Library was desperately needed.
These and other documents have been introduced to coaches from U16 level upwards over the last few years and as part of our EPD programme initiatives. It helps coaches at all levels improve their own skill set, but also offers a clear idea on the benchmarks SA Rugby has set for players at various levels.
It is of great benefit to SA Rugby and specifically our Junior National Teams (SA Schools and Junior Springboks) that players who arrive at any of our training camps are not unfamiliar with our conditioning, skills or technical requirements for each position.
While SA Rugby will always be dependent on our unions to identify and develop our future Springboks, the benefit of sharing our IP and benchmarks help coaches better prepare players for the moment they join our Elite squads.
What is the state of rugby development in the deepest parts of South Africa? How focused does SA Rugby help out with players below the under 13 level, considering the efforts mentioned?
SA Rugby, with the help of our Associate Member, SASRA, is currently rolling out a project in which we hope to audit every single rugby player at school in South Africa. With over 28 000 schools we are well aware that this is a massive project that will take time to complete.
However, the importance of this project cannot be overstated. What the audit will allow SA Rugby to establish is not only how many schools present rugby as an extra mural activity, but also the standard of the product (rugby) that is delivered at each school.
Each audit will give us information on the total amount of rugby players in relation to the total number of learners of each school. How many coaches are available to coach players and what experience or qualification they have, and importantly, what equipment and facilities are available at each school.
Once we have an accurate estimate of the state of the game at school level in South Africa, SA Rugby together with SASRA will look to engage the Department of Sport and Recreation and the Department of Basic Education both nationally and provincially to address the game’s most immediate needs.
How do SA rugby select the relevant locations for the players to develop?
SA Rugby has and always will work closely with our unions in deciding our strategic approach to rugby development. While it is important to note that no school is excluded, our focus is towards urban township and rural areas in line with our commitment to the Transformation Charter, which all the provincial unions signed.
What is the secret, considering SA Rugby is one of the few sports Unions in the country that have managed to get a win percentage of over 80% in the last three years with fully transformed side? How?
SA Rugby is proud of the fact that our National Schools, U20 and Springbok Sevens sides have maintained a high win percentage over the last couple of years whilst being demographically in line with our targets. It is both as a result of the hard work we have put into the development of the game and the commitment our unions have shown towards transformation.
We are also thankful to our unions who have been driving the principle that transformation is not the exclusion of any specific race or group, but rather involves the inclusion of all people who want to play the game and providing the necessary platforms for them to do so.
The 2019 World Cup will require South Africa to have a certain percentage of transformed players. Are you confident this will be achieved with distinction?
The success of our junior teams over the years have shown us that fielding a team that is demographically representative whilst maintaining a high standard of performance is a natural result if the programmes are in place to support it.
Again, transformation is not viewed in our rugby structures as a process or system to specifically include or exclude any person based on their race, but rather a process to create an environment where coaches and players of all races can thrive to achieve their best.
With the continued support of our unions and associate members SA Rugby is confident that rugby will meet the expectations.