Dreams can end in harsh life lessons
contracts must surely be vexing New Zealand Rugby as it weighs up its approach to schoolboy rugby.
Player ‘poaching’, or ‘recruitment’, is part of a much broader issue but it is a symptom, not the malaise itself.
The bigger issue is the intense pressure to win being put on young athletes, whose minds and bodies are still growing.
Whenever someone pipes up these days about the game going soft then my response is: go and stand on the sidelines of a highquality schoolboy rugby game.
There, you can hear the boneon-bone crunch of well conditioned, powerful athletes. It is brutal. On a bad day you may see a boy – and they are still boys – in the arms of his family, close to tears after a painful injury as plans are made to head to hospital.
Some of this is part and parcel of a rough sport that is probably getting rougher in terms of the volume and intensity of contact.
But surely we are nearing a point at which we ask what schoolboy rugby is trying to achieve, and who it is best serving.
Those questions are equally relevant to the ‘winners’ in this debate, the talented youngsters who are being handed scholarships.
Indeed, the outstanding player in Gatland’s HBHS team was an athletic young lock called Sam Chongkit, who looked like an All Black in the making.
‘‘Sam picked up a shoulder injury and then disappeared, then I saw a couple of photos pop up of him playing in Japan,’’ Gatland says.
At least Chongkit is still active, still playing the game he loves.
But how many sadder variations of this story are there up and down the country?