Jan 22, 2021

Sometimes rugby really is the winner

Credit: Greenside High School

By Theo Garrun

As an antidote to all the things I find abhorrent in the way school sport is going, I list some of the good things I’ve come across in my nearly finished book on what’s wrong with the way we define winning.

Here I retell something I saw one Wednesday afternoon in Joburg

I tried to make a point of reporting on as wide a range of schools as possible in my Saturday Star School Sport days, and that meant trawling around on Wednesday afternoon for matches to go to. The top sports schools play their games on Saturdays and it was easy to cover them. They publicised their fixtures in advance and some of them even had PR and publicity departments who would keep us informed about what was going on. That didn’t apply to all schools and on some Wednesdays I would drive to the various schools in one part of town, hoping to stumble upon some action.

It was on one of those winter Wednesdays that I found myself at Roosevelt High School. They were playing Greenside in Kudu league fixture. The Kudu league was created by those small schools when they found themselves, in a rugby sense, no longer able to compete with the bigger schools in terms of numbers. The Roosevelt vs Greenside encounter was once a massive local derby attracting bumper crowds, not any more, but at least, I thought, the game was surviving at the two schools.

There were only a handful of matches on the day, and the standard wasn’t as high as what you’ll see on a Saturday, but the field was in great condition, the players were neatly turned out and the games were evenly contested.

When the first teams ran out they were made up, as I’d expected, entirely of black players and there were some impressive physical specimens on both sides. Then the referee appeared and that’s when it became something special – she was a petite white woman with a shock of red hair.

I snapped a few photographs as the game got under way – that’s why I was there – but then I settled back and watched as the conventional rugby story was rewritten before my eyes. Those hulking young men accepted the decisions of the referee unconditionally, they were disciplined and polite and called her ma’am. The ref knew her stuff and was brilliant in her handling of the players. It was one of the best regulated games I’d seen for a long time and I can’t recall a single unsavoury moment.

Rugby is surviving at schools were the demographic makeup have radically changed. Black boys in Joburg do love the game and they can play it well. A woman can referee a mens game very well, and the intrinsic disciplines imposed by the letter and the spirit of the laws of the game are observed, no matter how different the players and the official may be to each other.

I can’t remember who won the match, but the game of rugby came out pretty well on the day. Don’t tell me it’s not a great educational activity.

– Garrun is a veteran schools rugby writer.