Schoolboy rugby: When it’s no longer a match

There is never any shortage of controversy in South African schoolboy rugby. Steroid abuse, player recruitment, school rankings, and the live streaming of games, all contribute to a damaging culture. In this post Theo Garrun adds one more to the list, and argues that games should be called off when there is a clear mismatch between teams.

I saw the scores from the Potchefstroom Gimnasium vs Paarl Gimnasium rugby games on Saturday and I can’t help myself.

There were five results published. The average score line is 75-3; Paarl won the first team game 83-3, and the U16As 97-3. The comments on Facebook were the expected mixture of those who (like me) who believe that a fixture like that is an abomination, and those who see nothing wrong with it, or even believe it’s a good thing.

My view is that anything that happens at a school has to be educationally accountable, and there’s nothing educational about allowing scores in rugby matches to reach those numbers. Education is about learning things that help children grow and develop into good adults, and that’s a much about building character, kindness and humility as it is about building strength, acquiring skills and accumulating knowledge.

 Allowing a team of children to be humiliated, discouraged and possibly injured, during a rugby game, while at the same time allowing the other team to bully them, to gloat and to assume an air of superiority, is not educationally accountable, and that applies to both teams.

 One of the comments on the Gimmies scores post referred to the fact that the Potch teams had travelled 1000 km to play a rugby game, so they should be allowed to do so for the full match time. Well, you have to ask how the fixture ever happened. Apart from the fact that the two schools adhere to the custom, coming from our Dutch colonial past, of calling high schools gymnasiums, I wonder if they have much in common, and those responsible for arranging that 1000-km trip surely knew beforehand what the results were going to be.

 Rugby, in this instance, is a vehicle for a range of lessons taught and learnt. Going on a rugby tour is about a lot more than the hour-long match against the opposing school. The paperwork and arrangements required when a team goes on tour is a mammoth task, made ever more difficult by the red tape that the education department requires. If so much trouble is being gone to, and if the parents are paying the sorts of tour fees that they are, then it had better be about more than just the hour-long matches played.

No, its also about travelling across the country in a bus, with your team mates, and all the socialisation and sprit building that happens on that bus. It’s about being hosted by a family in the town you are going to and having to interact with your opponent the night before the game, and at breakfast in the morning; it’s about seeing and experiencing a school that is different to yours; it’s about your manners, and showing gratitude towards those have offered you hospitality and thanking the teachers who went with you and made it all happen.

And it is about the game you will be playing there, but not only it. So, if the game has to get called early because it’s a mismatch and not in anyone’s educational interests that runs its course, then so be it. That act itself can be a lesson, to both teams. It doesn’t make it all a waste of time and money, all the other important lessons are still being taught.

Rugby games between children should be called off when the score starts climbing rapidly and the opponents are unable to stop that from happening, every time.   

Theo Garrun is the former editor of the Saturday Star School Sports Supplement. Read his full post here Stop the game when the winning margin gets out of hand



  1. nails it

    just imagine if there was a handicap system – eg next year the losing side would start with last years score in reverse or depending on ranking you would start with x points …..just imagine the comments

    Liked by 1 person

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