School rugby games in South Africa quite often draw bigger crowds than Currie Cup games due to an incredible passion that has been bred over many decades – many historic schools are well over a hundred years old – and with each unfolding year, legacies continue to grow and blossom.
The point has been reached where there is a growing criticism that the desperation to win has distorted the ethos of schoolboy rugby and that the players are, in fact, junior professionals before they have left school.
The merit of that criticism is an argument for another day and for now, this beautifully displayed coffee table book celebrates the remarkable history of the game at school level, a history that in some cases goes back more than 150 years, with some schools considerably older than this country if we consider the Union of South Africa occurred in 1910.
South Africa’s rugby rivals have long observed that our schools rugby is unique for its range and depth, its massive support base, and its intensity that prepares players for the step up to senior rugby.
The records show that SA’s schools are vital nurseries for provincial franchises, the Springboks and, in a new trend, for other nations.
Each of the 25 schools selected provides its own content and records and it is fascinating to see how lists of international players produced by the schools for many decades showed only the Boks but more recently we see other countries listed.
Rondebosch, for instance, last produced a Springbok in 2004 (Hanyani Shimange) but in the last seven years, they have had players included in the national teams of Germany, Hong Kong, the USA, and Ghana. The times are a-changing, that is for sure.
This book has 320 pages and over 600 pictures, many historical, and many a famous Springbok can be seen as he looked as a callow youth in the colours of his school.
As already stated, views differ on the importance of winning but it is fact that the schools in this book have always been leaders and they have produced a disproportionate number of Springboks. As of November 2019, when this book was completed but not published because of problems created by the pandemic, the total number of men who played for South Africa since 1906 was 915. No less than 36% of them were produced by just 20 schools, and 28% were from just 10 schools, 22% from the top six schools, and 14% from the top three. Based on the statistics, the 25 schools captured here have been magnets for talent.
As for the selection of the 25, while most select themselves, there are certainly going to be old boys of excluded schools who will want to pick a fight with the publishers. John Smit of Pretoria Boys High will certainly quibble that there is no place for his alma mater; and Durban High School will be peeved that their rivals Glenwood made the cut but they did not.
Well, just as choosing a rugby team always means disappointment for some, so it is with this collection; there are only 15 players in a team and this collection chose 25 as its cut-off.
And to avoid allegations of favouritism, the publishers have placed the schools in alphabetical order.
They are: Affies, Bishops, Boland Landbou, Dale College, Drosty Technical, Glenwood, Grey College, Grey High, Helpmekaar, Hilton, Monument, Jeppe, King Edward VII, Maritzburg College, Michaelhouse, Outeniqua, Paarl Boys, Paarl Gim, Paul Roos Gym, Queens College, Rondebosch, SACS, Selborne College, St Andrew’s College, Wynberg.