Schools rugby standards slip

Enock Muchinjo


AT the Zimbabwe Rugby Union’s annual general meeting in February, Old Hararians player/coach Rocky Gurumani stood up and raised a crucial issue.

Gurumani, a Zimbabwe international for nearly a decade mourned the decline of playing stan

dards at schools where rugby was once an established sport.

Gurumani mentioned schools like Lord Malvern and Mount Pleasant, which are no longer regarded as “rugby schools”.

He added that stakeholders in local rugby cannot talk of developing the game in the previously overlooked high-density and rural areas when they were letting it die a natural death at the schools where it used to be played at or is still being played at but at lower standards.

And after witnessing the depreciating level of competition at the recently ended Cottco Schools Rugby Festival at Prince Edward School, it was clear, sadly though, that more schools could fall into rugby oblivion.

Most games at the Cottco festival were mismatches, and disappointingly, this was not supposed to be the case considering the tradition of the schools in question.

For years there has been a continuation of a healthy decentralisation of schools rugby strength in this country.

Now just a handful of schools can be considered as strong. While the top remaining sides in the whole country — about six — exhibited some well-drilled rugby and showed great skill and spirit at the festival, they surely were disappointed by the lack of strong competition at  the tournament.

When the top schools are improving and moving to modern game-conditioning, the standards at their former competitors are plunging. The big guns in schools rugby are recruiting the best coaches the country has to offer.

Prince Edward are coached by two former national team coaches, Godwin Murambiwa and Brighton Chivandire, while St George’s College have Alex Nichols, another former national coach and a veteran of two World Cups with Zimbabwe as a player.

Admittedly though, there has always been divisions in schools rugby according to the schools’ strengths.

Even at the prime of Zimbabwean schools rugby, there would be a first league comprising schools such as PE, Falcon College, St George’s and Peterhouse. Then there was the next batch of teams which had Watershed, Hillcrest and Plumtree. That was not all as you even had a third string of competitive sides like Mutare Boys High, Ellis Robins, Marondera High, Milton and others.

You could pick any team from the third group and give them a game with anyone from the first league and still be assured of an enthralling game of rugby. These days, the second group of teams like Watershed or Plumtree cannot compete favourably against the top sides as was evident during the Cottco festival.

Reg Querl, the Falcon headmaster who is in charge of schools rugby in the country, says the coaching factor is causing the disparity.

“Coaching is a huge factor,” he said. “There are fewer and fewer coaches involved now. There is nothing wrong with the enthusiasm of the boys. They need direction.

“The boys are giving their best. The skill level is what is lacking, and skills come from coaching.”