Schoolboy side controversy may have silver lining - Green and Gold Rugby
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Schoolboy side controversy may have silver lining

Schoolboy side controversy may have silver lining

The announcement of the Queensland Schoolboys teams (1 & 2) this week raised some eye-brows and questions.  Other than five players from St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, there were no GPS Schools representatives at all.

Let’s put that in perspective. The GPS Rugby Competition is considered the leading schoolboy rugby program in Queensland, arguably Australia, and has produced Wallabies (and other internationals) for decades.

Even now, across Super Rugby, you’ll find a glut of talent that has come through the system.  The Rebels have the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Matt Toomua, Campbell Magnay, Semisi Tupou and Trevor Leota. The Brumbies have James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Len Ikitau, Noah Loloesio, Tom Banks and David Pocock.  The Waratahs have Rob Simmons, Shambeckler Vui, Karmichael Hunt, Patrick Tafa and Mack Mason.

The Reds obviously have plenty.

In fact if you look at the Queensland Schoolboys teams selected from 2014-2018, then 179 representatives came from the GPS system.  Which is about 78% of the 230 kids selected.

This year there are 5 of 46 selected.  All from one school.

So something is ‘up’. Before people get too excited about a seismic shift in player development in the Queensland schools system, let’s find the true reason.

Nick Frost (5) one of schoolboys best Photo credit: ARU Media

Australian Schoolboys teams have a rich tradition in Australian Rugby (Photo credit: ARU Media)

For that we can refer to a letter from the relatively new President of the Australian Schools Rugby Union (ASRU), Tim Cleary, which he sent to “all schools” early last month. The letter’s intent was to provide clarity on the Australian Schoolboys structure for 2019.

In relation to the national team, from Cleary’s letter:

“The Team will be presented and managed jointly so as to retain the benefits that teachers can bring, but also to obtain the benefits that Rugby Australia and its staff can also contribute.

The Team will retain its current name to continue the long and successful fifty year history of the Australian Schoolboys Teams.  This will allow players of appropriate ability who are still Under 18 but not in school to be selected. The Australian Schools and U18 team has a Rugby Australia appointed Coach as well as Australian Schools Rugby Union appointed Assistant Coaches and Managers.”

The first piece of change we saw come to fruition late last year when the Australian Schoolboys team to tour the UK actually toured as the Australian Schoolboys and Under 18 side. It was part of an agreement between Rugby Australia and the ASRU, although it’s not clear how much was just RA just asserting its authority in order to streamline the development pathway.

Part of the reasoning behind the change would seem to be RA’s desire for a greater control in the development of the players coming through the system. As such they have re-established U18 Academies in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth.

Peter Hewat has been named the coach of the national team in 2019 while the new selection policy, of including 18 year old school leavers, seemed to work last year with Carlo Tizzano, Jackson Pugh, Maxwell Douglas and Viliami Lea joining to schoolboys from their respective academy structures.

Credit: ARU Media

NSW Schools pathway remains strong. (Photo Credit: ARU Media)

Regular punters may have a excuse for some confusion as there appears to be two national championships (in some iteration) for this age group this year. The various U18 Academies will play each other in a variety of matches as part of a selection process for the Australian Schools and U18 team, which will take on New Zealand in October.

But before that, the traditional Australian Schools National Championships will once again be held in Sydney (Riverview College) from 9 to 13 July. At this tournament various teams (two from NSW, two from QLD, ACT, Victoria, a combined States and a ‘Cavalier Barbarians’ as a second combined states team) will once again battle each other over multiple days.  At the end an Australian Schools Barbarians side will be selected to take on Samoa Schools on 2 October in Sydney.

The selectors of the Australian Schools and U18 team will also attend and a strong performance here can lead to selection in the State Academies and through the pathway from there.

So it’s a little convoluted I guess.  Somewhat confusing with two avenues for selection, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The Academy structure is something that has been called on for a while, and has seen some immediate benefit in the signing of numerous young schoolboy stars.  Players we may have lost to league in years gone by.  Theoretically it should allow for a broader capture of players rather than more traditionally through the GPS schools.

Up in Queensland though, however, there has been some sort of mini-boycott. It would seem that all GPS Schools, with the exception of Terrace, plus Ashgrove Marist Brothers from the AIC comp (considered the 2nd best schools competition in Queensland) decided to not allow their players to trial at the Queensland schools selection event last weekend.  Thus none made the state team.

The result is two named Queensland teams with five players from GPS schools, 13 from AIC schools, 17 from various independent private schools and a previously unheard of 11 from various Queensland state schools.

QLD Schools 5 yearsQLD Schools 2019

The 11 State School representatives this year is almost double the amount of State School representatives that have been picked over the previous five years (6).  Similarly there are almost as many independent private schools lads playing this year (11) as there have been going back to 2014 (20).

The critics have long targeted rugby’s lack of presence in the state school system as a weak point and perhaps a reason (one of many, most likely) for the sports challenges of late. To have 11 state school representing Queensland this year, regardless of the reasons behind it, should be sung to the hills by Queensland Rugby and RA.  I myself was naive enough to not realise that rugby even had a presence at many of these schools. To them to have potential national players come from it, is exciting.

It will be a huge challenge for them, without a doubt, going to Sydney in July.  From all reports NSW will be at full strength with all schools seemingly opting to make their players available. The Queensland team is setting itself up to be one of the true underdogs – like Fatty Vautin’s Origin team of 1995 or Bobby Simpson’s test team of 1977/78.

Why the Queensland schools have opted to boycott is curious. It is worth noting that the only GPS schools to allow their students to attend the trials is Terrace, whose Head Master currently sits on the QRU Board.  Perhaps he had a greater level of understanding and confidence in the system to support the existing, and new, structures.

There is hope in the ASRU that the Queensland schools will come back to the party next year as the new structure finds its groove.  If it does, then great, but let’s hope the opportunity these less-fancied schools and players receive this year is not a simple once-off.

  • Bernie Chan

    RR, thanks for covering the subject, otherwise there would have been a lot of head scratching at the team list. I would agree that having such a decent State Schools representation is a good thing (I assume BSHS is not considered part of this cohort as it is in the GPS system…). Kind of baffling as to why the GPS schools (GT excepted…) boycotted the trials, but IMHO they (and I’m a former GPS school student rugby player…) have always been more interested in winning that 8 game comp. Hope the new structure works for the better…

  • Tom Galbraith

    I am left scratching my head, on one hand it is good to see boys from non traditional schools get a look in but I’d be pretty pissed off if I were a year 12 boy with potential to make the QLD side but for the fact they attend one of those GPS schools who have apparently boycotted the selection trials.

    • Mike

      Agree , its great to see them casting the net further. I think Tim Cleary will be a key factor in driving this.The process however, just doesn’t seem to be transparent enough, especially around the academy

  • Roscoe Tims aka Lance Free

    Thanks Reg. Introducing more state school kids into the rugby system is indeed a positive thing; however, that will be at the expense of any sort of competitive result for the two Queensland sides at the national champs. Crazy situation that GPS schools (GT excepted) are not taking part, depriving those teams and the boys themselves of potential achievement, opportunity and exposure. The fact that 77% of previous teams (2014-2018) were GPS selections is an indicator of where the strength in Queensland Schoolboy rugby lies. Unfortunately, these two selections are B teams. Good luck to the boys involved, and there may be long term positives to this, but fitness wise, coaching wise and skill level development won’t be anywhere near what’s needed to be competitive against the likes of NSW I and II, ACT and perhaps some of the outlanders. Hopefully it can be rectified in the near future.

    • Michael

      What happens to the academies if these Queensland boys win the championships.
      A lot of the players in these teams are playing both school and premier colts club rugby.

      • Who?

        That’s what I was wondering Michael – how many of these guys who have now made the team been playing club?

  • Dud Roodt

    I’d love to know how the boys in those teams that didn’t partake feel?
    This could potentially have long term effects on their careers given the exposure the Schoolboys tournaments and the Aus Schoolboys team gets.
    There will of course be a few of the more gifted ones already in the sights of the QRU and League, but the others just had a huge roadblock placed in front of them.

    • Bernie Chan

      Yeh….imagine the scenario. A “gun” is offered a scholarship to a renowned rugby ‘nursery’ school, and part of the attraction is the old pathway to QLD Schoolboys rugby. Gets to Senior to find out his school won’t release him to play in the Trials so he can’t get into the QLD sides and can’t play in the National Championships….can’t imagine players or parents being happy…

  • Christopher

    Can’t the GPS players still make the queensland and Australia side through the academies (if they are in one)? In which case it may be a case of not needing to double dip? Or am i reading this wrong?

    IS a solution to not let GPS players not in academies trial?

    • RugbyReg

      abolutely. Forgive me if that isn’t clear. There are likely plenty of GPS players already picked up in the Academy. But they are effectively already picked. So those not in it miss the chance to play state.

      • Mike

        Why would you if you could skip this selection process. You might get showed up by a kid in a school outside the GPS system or get injured, Im not convinced this system is transparent enough. The kids in the academies have been selected by schools already haven’t they? If that is the case why would those schools be able to put a kid straight into the academies?

        • RugbyReg

          the schools aren’t picking the academy squad. The respective state with RA are.

        • Mike

          There must be some influence by schools /GPS coaches. They haven’t played enough games this year to determine who gets in, I know there are 3 kids from our GPS school already picked.They were all in the 1st XV last year but not with major rep honors,

        • RugbyReg

          these guys would be on the radar for years. I don’t think there’s much of a chance that Paul Carozza is taking the advise of 1st XV coaches. Yeah, sure listen, but the reality is that their input in who gets an academy squad would be pretty minor.

      • Christopher

        Seems to me a step in the right direction – albeit by the chance/luck of the GPS schools boycotting. Its a great result having rep honours for other kids which may make them continue to play after school. The probably at the moment is it is much easier to stay in a system then not, its no fault of the kids – its the way things work, make the good teams early on, get better coaching, improve more etc etc.

  • Wallace Christian

    The most disappointing thing about this process is the GPS players that missed out (excluding GT) had no choice in the matter as the schools made the call – no discussions or information given whatsoever, from my understanding there were a lot of GPS players that wanted to participate.

  • Patrick

    Fantastic work reporting this here. Very interesting and I’ll certainly be cheering for QLD this year (after Victoria)!

  • Who?

    These things are always something of a farce. Wanna play rep Rugby? Then you better hope your parents can pay five figures to get you into a school where you’ll train hard on fitness but, until this year, seemingly be less safe in the scrum than at club (I can’t believe they had to introduce a ‘scrum passport’ – when I coached, we spent almost two months before the U10’s season training our kids, on top of working hard through the end of U9’s – never dropped a scrum, always went forward, only lost a scrum when we kicked the ball ahead rather than hooking), and then hope to get a scholarship to smooth the ride at the end (and prove you’re worth picking). It’s wrong.
    What really interests me about the squad that’s been selected is this. Are they club players? If we could champion clubs producing rep players, perhaps there’d be a little more pride in clubs, a little more honour for those clubs, which would encourage and energise the clubs. I get that this has traditionally been a Schoolboys side, but now it’s effectively an Under 18’s side, that dramatically opens the door to recognise players by club.

  • bosindicus

    Seems to speak to the arrogance of GPS schools that they believe they can run their own show. Despite prevailing opinions, evidence would suggest (given the high representation of GPS players in professional ranks and the widely agreed poor basics of pro aus players) that GPS schools are not really developing rugby players. One might suggest that they only boost fitness and physical traits on search of short term success rather than longer term development. Players outside of intense rugby programs around too far behind in fitness to showcase that they may actually be better and smarter footballers. Anything that may even slightly shake the system up would seem like a benefit

  • Happyman

    Thanks for this Reg
    It is a good write up and to be fair something needed to change with the schoolboy selections.

    GPS schools have no interest in furthering the game as can be seen by boys in under 14 who have scholarships being held out of club rugby.

    The way that they have run roughshod over the selection processes has been disgraceful and cost many boys from state schools the opportunity at rep level.

    I like many have seen JGC and other so called selection trials being just a box ticking and piss taking exercise. Boys getting selected who don’t turn up and boystrialing like rubbish and getting selected from the right schools usually by there own coach while capable state school boys are neglected.

    Don’t get me wrong there are many boys from GPS who are very good players who deserve selection but the net needs to be cast wider.

  • Ralf de la Mare

    G’day Reg and GG crew,
    Is someone able to clarify,
    – If GPS schools did opt in, would the students have played for SouthCoast (TSS), Darling Downs (TGS) and the MET teams in the QRFSU State Champs?
    – If they did opt in, and therefore could be selected for Qld Schools, wouldn’t there be – potentially – little to no effect from this change in structure, as the GPS players would likely fill a similar % of selections as in the past?

    • RugbyReg

      hey Ralph. Hope you are well.

      yes, correct. If the GPS schools had opted in, then it would have been status quo. GPS players would have dominated selection.

      As they opted out, it opened up the avenue for these non-traditional schools to play and get picked.

  • Robisticus

    So what will happen to these championships when the GPS parents get cranky and demand that GPS kids play in them? Then what chance will any of these non-GPS players have in making their regional teams? Probably very little and now a rugby experience (the only one that may be available to them) will be foregone. As well, you omitted to mention that only one student north of Noosa was selected in the Q1 or Q2 sides. So what will happen when the GPS kids come into the regional championships to those country regions? Are parents really going to be happy forking out $1000 and giving up a few days work to come down and have their kids get belted by kids from GPS schools who have previously cherry-picked the biggest and best from the Under 15 championships etc.? Without the appropriate development programmes in place regionally, what will happen throughout the regions? Why would Darling Downs seek to develop players outside of Downlands and TGS if they’re strong enough to go Top 4/5? In the city, why would any kid from a state school even trial for the Metro teams when they know they’ll be dominated by the GPS players? What’s on offer for country-based kids to aspire to? Those kids from non-rugby schools who have an enjoyable rugby experience through participating in the schoolboy championships as a member of their regional teams, may not play for the Reds but they’ll often be the stalwarts of regional clubs throughout the state as players, coaches and administrators (certainly this has been the case in my 20 years of involvement). They keep the game alive. But if rugby is not seen to offer much opportunity for kids outside the big private schools in the SE corner, then they won’t play (esp. when there are so many other sports vying for them) and rugby in the country areas will continue to fade away. We’ve seen over the past few years what happens when the sport tries to build itself from the top down. This will not help.

    • Who?

      The problem for Downs (no one calls it Darling Downs – it’s Downs Rugby Limited) and their schools is that all the ‘Rugby’ parents send their kids to those schools. And so all the coaches have their kids in those schools. Then, the coaches from the schools get appointed to be the coaches of the rep teams (especially JGC and that sort of stuff). And the schools don’t consider those who don’t attend the schools – they barely consider kids who attend the other school.
      It’s a major problem in Downs. My family is now disconnected from rugby because we aren’t in those schools. And I held high level positions in the sub-union.
      And all this still happening at a time when it’s becoming ever more obvious that, whilst a few people (and even the odd principal – the kids of one of the principals was in my old club as a junior – bet he won’t be there in a couple of years, when he’s in the First XV) clearly love their Rugby, security of employment and enrolments is much more important than sport, and they’ll drop Rugby in a heartbeat if it means better odds of survival and growth.
      If regions and RA cared about the game at all, they’d take control of the game, ensure that club was the highest form of Rugby you could play, take responsibility for the development of players rather than outsourcing it to people beyond the game’s control. People inside the organizations have long argued for it, some clubs more than others (not so much self-interested clubs that win club titles by simply recruiting boarders), but we’ve never had majority support.

  • Marlins Tragic

    Reg, I have a freind that coaches the 1st XV at an ISA school & as of this year, due to all the new pathways that have been introduced, a coach can nominate a player to be watched via Huddle, the idea aparrently is to cast the search wider than the schoolboy national, specifically becuase of the issue with the GPS schools in Qld.

    The idea being from U16 in both club & schools upwards that if a coach spots a player “of national interest” that player can then be assesed and poteionally be picked for an age group rep team.

    From what I understand, a national database of players is being put together & those that can will be added into the Huddle system, once a player is in that with video footage he/she is then analysed by a conpany in NZ who thenm loads the broken down data back into Huddle, this way anyone within the selectioon group can view the broken down footage, like the S12 & Wallaby coaches can.

    I guess this in limited to schools and clubs that actually film games, but in the case of the GPS schoo’s with their massive rugby budgets that would be a given, in fact I know for a fact that all the Sydney GPS teams have both video footage and Huddle data on every player from U16 up.

    Our world is changing :)

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