This is an open letter to Nelspruit Hoërskool and all other schools who are on the brink of giving up on schoolboy rugby. Nelspruit Hoërskool's governing body and their rugby coachings are having a meeting Thursday evening to discuss their future as a rugby playing school and where to compete or not compete.
The reason for this drastic meeting was forced on them as they do feel that they can not compete against the top rugby schools in Gauteng. According to a member of their coaching staff, the euphoria of being included in the VirSeker Cup division is over and now they have to face the harsh realities of competing against the top schools on a weekly basis.
But what has really changed in the last few years? The most drastic change came from the VirSeker Competition itself. Whereas Nelspruit's road to the playoffs previously was a tarred road, only having to compete against Middelburg HTS and to a lesser extend Middelburg Hoërskool to reach the playoffs, from 2018 they have to play all the top schools in the Cup division to reach the finals. Six games against top rugby schools before even reaching the finals.
The second and maybe even more drastic change over the past few years is professionalism in schoolboy rugby. A lot of money is being spent by the top schools in order to attract the top talent to their schools. Top coaching staff as well as supporting staff are employed. Bursaries and even cash incentives are being offered to top talent and their parents, with unions using these top schools to house talented players who are already contracted by the unions at an early age.
Before I start to question the changes and their effects on Nelspruit's rugby lets discuss what will happen to Nelspruit's rugby if they do decide to either completely withdraw from the VirSeker Competition or downgrade to a lesser division.
This decision will definitely lead to Nelspruit not being invited to the Top Easter Festivals anymore as people attend to see top schools play and those people spend money at the gates and food stalls that leads to income for the hosts.
This will lead to top talent not attending the school anymore and they will be bussed off to the rest of the country. Current stars like Banele Mthenjane, Wian Otto and Stephan van der Bank would not even think to attend. It is currently an undisputable fact that the majority of players are contracted by the unions long before the youth weeks. If Nelspruit does not compete against the top schools anymore, no agent will even have a look at their players.
After the players left the coaches and coaching staff will follow. We must accept that the coaches all have aspirations to coach the Springboks or other top rugby sides. If they did not have any ambition they would not bother coaching at a level that Nelspruit is playing. When I discussed the Nelspruit issue with another school yesterday the first question was if I do think that their 1stXV coach is willing to move. Scary?
Do I over exaggerate? Probably yes, but go to schools like John Vorster HTS, Kempton Park, Waterkloof, Ermelo, Middelburg HTS, Pietersburg, Randburg, Lichtenburg, Hugenote (Springs), Sasolburg HTS etc etc etc that did not react at all or too late to the changing environment and ask them if I over exaggerate. Go ask Waterkloof, Middelburg HTS, Kempton Park and Rustenburg what are the costs and effort involved to resurrect their rugby to the top level.
Now for the question regarding the effect that the changes had on Nelspruit? I do know that Curro Nelspruit is having an effect on the intake of talented children, but have also heard that some of the children are returning to Nelspruit Hoërskool. That, unfortunately, is the only bad I could see or hear. Nelspruit played with 9 injuries against Helpmekaar 1stXV and was unlucky not to surprise us all. The u/15 and seccies won while their u/14 and u/16's lost. Not bad for a school who is on the verge of collapse.
So do we call the vet to putt the horse to rest or can we save it?
This horse maybe limping a little bit but it is certainly not dead, not even close.
Nelspruit is a proud school with all the infrastructure and staff to be a powerhouse in South African schoolboy rugby for many years to come. The coaching staff and the current rugby structures are as good as the best in the rest of the country. They do have hostels to host the players. So what do they need?
Transvalia High School - Transvalia is the success story of 2018 and they took some far-reaching decisions in order to rebuilt their rugby. I am sure they will be more than happy to advise on what gave them the best results.
Finance - At some of the top schools the parents of the non-rugby playing pupils are starting to refuse to "fund" the rugby programs. External sources of income will have to be found on an ongoing basis and not be dependant on parents donations.
Scouts - The devils of the schoolboy rugby world? But it would not hurt to ask the help of some scouts. For a program to be successful it needs to provide the results. Speak to Garsfontein, after the near collapse of the school their rugby program is acknowledged as one of the major contributors of the school's resurrection.
Pumas Rugby Union - The help and support of the Pumas will be non-negotiable as this will open a path to professional rugby for the Nelspruit players that is sustainable and credible. The input of the Pumas coaching staff will also be seen by the community as a positive in the development of their stars.
And this the reason for this open letter. And I promise it is not only this old fart that asks this from you, Nelspruit Hoërskool. Please do not throw in the towel. St John's will not be St John's without the Rhinos from Nelspruit, The Administrators Cup/Beeld/VirSeker will be a lot poorer without the Rhinos from Nelspruit and schoolboy rugby as a whole will be a lot poorer without the Rhinos from Nelspruit, and lastly but very important a Ruggas.co.za road trip to Nelspruit without attending a match of the Rhinos from Nelspruit against a top schoolboy rugby school will never be a proper road trip.
It was confirmed that Nelspruit will send their 1st and 2nd team, u/16A, u/15A and u/15B and u/14A to Monnas to compete in their VirSeker Cup scheduled matches. The 1stXV will compete even though they do have 12 first choice players on the injury list, showing the commitment and passion we will miss.