Great to hear WP plan to hold on to pick of Craven Week standouts
O what do you do when an iconic and completely enthralling series involving the British and Irish Lions is over?
Well, if you’re lucky enough to work from home and have time enough to be distracted by the television while everyone else is slaving in an office, then watching a 19-year-old kid score 98 as No 11 while batting like a lefthanded Kevin Pietersen is a pretty good way to fill that empty space.
But I did drag myself away from the Ashes just long enough to watch the sport that pays for my big-screen television and the food and drink that keeps my heart beating.
Western Province played the Blue Bulls in the Craven Week in Polokwane, and it was a match well worth watching.
It wasn’t just that WP won, and won big, that made it worthwhile to spend 70 minutes of my life watching the game, but the sheer quality of the Province performance.
It’s hard to recall when last a team dished up consistently excellent counter-rucking such as the Cape forwards did on Wednesday, and there was also plenty of talent on show at the back.
I’m not as crazy about schools rugby as some people are and have trouble sometimes with the win-at-all-costs attitude that these days seems to permeate that level of the game.
Craven Week is different because it pits provincial teams, and potential future professional players, against one another, but the televising of ranked matches between schools teams is something I am uncomfortable with.
There are only so many places available in professional rugby at the various unions, so apart from creating young prima-donnas, the televised games also make it hard for the schoolboys who don’t make it immediately to the professional ranks to adjust to the type of rugby they get to play immediately after school.
In other words, for an under-21 team that plays on a chilly Wednesday night with only your girlfriend, if you’re lucky enough to have one, there to watch you.
I was also on Rassie Erasmus’ side when, as effectively the WP director of rugby, he pointed out that too much of a fuss was being made of schoolboys leaving the Cape.
Province doesn’t have a right to every schoolboy that completes his education in the region.
Just as prospective young lawyers, doctors and veterinarians have a right to broaden their horizons by studying and practising elsewhere after school, so do young rugby players.
But when I was watching the game on Wednesday I did keep wondering how many of the WP players were going to be wearing the colours of the Bulls next year, so it was pleasing to learn that Province appear to have got it right by recruiting the cream of the current crop for next year.
Daniel du Plessis, son of
SMichael, possibly the finest rugby player I ever saw play, is, according to the reports I have read, staying in the Cape next year.
And so are Jacques Vermeulen, a flank with formidable promise, and No 8 Rikus Bothma. The injured SA Schools lock JD Schickerling is also going to be sticking around, while some of the best of the young players from elsewhere, such as the highly regarded Lions prop Frans van Wyk, are headed this way in 2014.
And yes, it’s good to see WP targeting front-rankers!
Of course there will be someone out there who can list a couple of players who are leaving, and sure enough there will be a report somewhere in the coming weeks that some player from a local school who is extremely highly rated by his first team coach and his mother and uncle is heading off to the Sharks Academy or somewhere of its ilk.
But you can’t hold on to everyone as there are only so many spots available in professional rugby squads and at the better rugby institutes and academies, and family members aren’t always good talent identifiers.
What to do with the talented players who aren’t playing is one of the big questions faced by the people charged with the task of charting the succession planning programmes in each region, and I am not sure it helps a youngster to be contracted to a union where there are so many other talented youngsters that he doesn’t get to play.
If a player that is really good comes through elsewhere, then the way of the professional era is that you get a chance to buy him back.
It may cost you more in the long run once that youngster is established, and budgets are limited, which is why recruitment is becoming more and more crucial.
But then shouldn’t the extra money payed out for a prodigal son to return home not be weighed up against the finishing touches that may have been applied elsewhere if that player by moving has benefited from opportunities he wouldn’t have had at home?
Demetri Catrakilis, who we hear is returning to WP for the coming Currie Cup season, is a case in point.
Had Peter Grant been fit Catrakilis would not have been in line for a game at the Stormers this season.
By moving to the Kings, he was guaranteed a start in Super Rugby, and the experience he picked up at that franchise must surely benefit this region now that he is returning.