Waugh: Schoolboys play crucial talent role

by Phil Waugh

There has been a lot of debate the last few weeks, in fact the last few years about schoolboy rugby and the significance it plays in developing our future Wallabies.

Whether it’s the perceived reliance on private schools or the divide that there appears to be among the best and worst schools, one thing we need to recognise is that school rugby is a critical development hub for the best talent within Australian sport (not just rugby).

Whilst there has been increasing speculation over the third tier Buildcorp NRC and its rightful or wrongful place within Australian Rugby and the comparisons made between it and New Zealand's National Provincial Competition and South African’s Currie Cup, it is important to shift our attention to another one of the true breeding grounds, schoolboy rugby.

The Schoolboys have played a role in Wallabies pre-match before. Photo: Getty ImagesSchoolboy rugby is essential to Australian rugby. And when I talk about schoolboy rugby, I don’t just mean the GPS or CAS competitions, I mean schoolboy rugby more broadly.

This is an environment when talent is still raw but players play without fear. With the vibrancy and flamboyance that sees many rugby fans flock to their favourite schoolboy field to watch teams play with a genuine love of the game.

Many will assume when I talk about schoolboy rugby, I am talking about private schools and the buck stops there. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Schoolboy rugby means ALL schools.

Rugby’s best talent is spread across all areas of Sydney and Brisbane and we need to harness this talent and ensure these young superstars choose rugby, and choose rugby in Australia.

We need to enable the best players at schoolboy level to have exposure against each other and as often as possible.

I must admit, this year I have gone along to four schoolboy games, 3pm on a sunny winter’s day and there is plenty of talent on show.

When we start comparing ourselves with NZ and South Africa, it is important to look deeper than third tier rugby competitions and Super Rugby depth.

We must look at our kids and how they develop through their adolescent years.

I am not going to enter into the debate of how our schoolboy rugby should be structured because there are so many variables that need to be considered, however I would like to entertain how we can better expose and foster some of these incredibly talented young rugby men.

The Schoolboys have played a role in Wallabies pre-match before. Photo: Getty ImagesAustralia's best schoolboy players are world class. We are and have historically been incredibly competitive with the NZ schoolboy’s teams. These are New Zealand  schoolboys teams that generate a huge amount of All Blacks, just like our team breeds Wallabies.

In my travels to New Zealand and South Africa over many years, I have had the opportunity to watch some great schoolboy rugby. Why? Because their top inter-school schoolboy games are televised. Their top talent and the game itself is exposed for the great spectacle it is. People will argue that clu rugby should fill this role in Australia.

I am a massive supporter of club rugby and always have been, but why can’t we also cover the excitement and entertainment of schoolboy rugby?

There is enormous talent within our schoolboy ranks and the greater exposure would benefit all. From the games I’ve witnessed at schoolboy level, they are a great advertisement for the code, games played at pace with skill and most importantly, enormous discipline.

Plenty of Wallabies have come through the schoolboy ranks. Photo :Getty ImagesNo arguing with the ref, no push and shove but instead 30 players playing in the right spirit, vying to win the game in an entertaining fashion.

In a time when there seems to be many critics about rugby and the direction it is heading, I believe we should nurture and expose some of the best rugby there is. All is not lost at all. In fact if you were to travel around the country to the best schoolboy and representative schoolboy games, you would recognise that Australian rugby isn’t nearly as bad or negative as people are trying to make it. In fact the talent coming through the system is incredibly strong. The challenge for the game is how to best develop this talent into the next world class rugby player.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.