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It all starts at the schools

Rugby professionalism is well entrenched in schools, with the fields and playgrounds the nurseries for our future stars.

However, do the Southern Hemisphere schools have the traditional edge in this regard?

I have worked in two 'rugby academy' style schools – where the importance of the sport is paramount and it is taken upon the coaches to make these boys into professionals by the time they are 18-years-old.

One of these schools was in South Africa and one of them in England, and it is very interesting to see how the approaches to rugby differ across the hemispheres – even if the goals are the same.

Firstly, the time tabling differs, and that is to be expected.

In England there is no after-school sport, rather the sport is timetabled in during the day and equates to two sessions of two hours a week.

This is fairly similar to South African schools – where most teams practise twice a week for the same amount of time.

In England, however, there is opportunity to get in some extra practise in after school at 'clubs' where different sessions are set up everyday – which will range from gym sessions to field and skills sessions to simple games of touch.

In South Africa, and in the school I worked at, a similar idea was in place with an It all starts at the schoolsearly morning 'academy'.

However this was only for A-teams and select B-team players and far more structured and skills based.

So, in comparison, for the vast majority, I don't believe one system benefits more than the other in terms of opportunity to be coached, but then where does the big difference come into coaching in the two hemispheres?

Perhaps by looking at the first teams and their specialised coaching we can discover a clear benefit?

Both schools' first teams received an additional training day – almost like a captain's run on a Friday before a match. So there is no difference there.

Both schools had two highly qualified coaches as well as additional guest and specialist coaches to help on certain skills, such as the breakdown and scrumming.

On the face of it, it becomes quite hard to draw a distinction, until you delve deeper into the lives of the boys and what rugby is to each of them.

In the English school rugby is played for one of the three terms a year, that means there are two other sports to get involved in (being hockey and cricket) and while in South Africa cricket season is seen as a past-time until rugby season starts again, it is not the same in England.

Many of the first team rugby boys in England were first team cricketers and hockey players and when quizzed on their favourite (or most important sport to them personally) it was by and large evenly split.

More so, Many of the English first team boys were also involved in the school play – which for this school was a big deal as they often preformed in the West End. Some of the boys were also part of the school band and heavily involved in learning their instrument.

It all starts at the schoolsWhen I compare this to the first team boys in South Africa, their entire life revolved around rugby. School and education was the time between practices, and early morning and evenings were the times for gym in order to get bigger for rugby.

The South African boy's dedication to the sport was unrivalled, and perhaps it is because of the lack of choice available in schools.

Sure, most schools will have a drama department, a music department, other sports of course and additional extracurricular activities, but they are incredibly minor when it comes the English schools.

I believe our strength in rugby coming out of schools is the boys' dedication to the sport and the lack of distractions.

Many will say that is fantastic for our rugby, but is it not a bit sad for the lives of our children to not be exposed to other aspects of life at such a formative time?

By Darryn Pollock



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