Mzwakhe Nkosi: 'All is not lost for schools players'

Mzwakhe Nkosi with Toby Titus at the SA Schools presentation ceremony at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch
Mzwakhe Nkosi with Toby Titus at the SA Schools presentation ceremony at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch
Image: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

As the former SA Schools coach and a man who operated in that set-up for four-and-a-half years, Mzwakhe Nkosi knows what goes around comes around on the country’s talent conveyor belt.

The production line has been cruelly interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and as much as the system is hard-wired to crank back into action, human fragility cannot be underestimated when the switch gets flicked.

“What do you say to a matric who played rugby his entire life and who just wants to be in the school’s first team?” Nkosi wondered rhetorically.

“There is so much satisfaction that playing for the first team provides. A lot of emotion goes into it. Now there is a big void in that player’s life.”

The suspension of all schools rugby also comes with more tangible complications.

“There now is no opportunity to market themselves for universities or academies. Those blokes are broken. They are pretty bleak. There is no matric ball and there is so much that is lost,” reminded Nkosi.

He believes a natural selection process will reveal itself soon enough. The wheat will separate from the chaff in a country that remains one of the globe’s pre-eminent rugby nurseries.

As Nkosi explains, the country’s rugby infrastructure and systems will ensure that the top talent flourishes. Coupled to that, he argues, players who have adapted best to the lockdown will prosper.

“The player who really wants to do well will show the mental fortitude and desperation to come through this. We will see that immediately.”

Behind that is a system that can help fast-track talent to where it needs to be. There may be no play but the South African Rugby Union’s (Saru) Elite Player Development programme is far from dormant.

In fact, Nkosi believes individuals may actually re-emerge from lockdown better rounded players. “What lacks in our modern player is rugby EQ and rugby IQ. The lockdown has given players and coaches the opportunity to improve online.

“The type of player that is going to come out of this is the player who focused on those extras. It will be the scrumhalf who can pass properly off the base, or who can box kick with accuracy. The tight forward who isn’t just be big and strong, but who will be solid in his fundamentals at the set piece.

“Basically, it will be the player who has now used his time most effectively.”

In South Africa, however, things are never that straightforward and the system might throw up anomalies.

“The 15-year-old was going to play under-16 this season but when he plays again he will probably go straight into the A-side. The last time he would have played would have been at under-15. That is a massive jump in any language.

“You have two choices. The one would be to exercise caution before allowing a player like that to go into the first side. Having said that, I would also caution schools retaining matrics who will be doing a post-matric next year from playing.”

Nkosi said while the EPD programme might sharpen their minds, player’s conditioning will require urgent attention upon resumption.

“I’m confident we will see a steady stream of players coming through the system and that the Junior Springboks will be able to pick from. All is not lost."

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