EASTERN Province rugby have no plans to follow Border’s drastic route of banning players who have signed with other provinces from selection for this year’s Craven Week tournament.
The annual schools rugby showpiece takes place in Port Elizabeth from July 9-14 and schools in the Border region were shocked when the new policy was made public yesterday.
In an attempt to keep talented young stars in the province, Border have offered to match contract offers some schoolboys have been made by other provinces.
Asked for EP’s view on the matter, EP Rugby Union president Cheeky Watson said they would not prescribe to high school players where to play.
"Basically, we don’t sign schoolboy rugby players, but we do have our academy in place to accommodate young players and there is a ladder to follow, a chain of development to prepare them for first-class rugby.
"It is a player’s democratic right to follow his dreams and we would not stand in anyone’s way. We understand, too, that you cannot keep all the rugby talent in your province.
"But we have seen tremendous success with our academy system with local players wanting to stay here. And we can keep players by having a [Super Rugby] franchise in PE.”
Watson’s view on the academy was backed up by EPRU director of rugby Alan Solomons, who has been coaching the EP Kings.
"We have long had a policy of ‘bring them home, keep them home’,” Solomons said, "and this has been very positive.
"We have a talent identification process focusing on boys in the 15-16 age group, and then they are brought through the system.”
EP have created under-19 and u-21 squads, while the academy has an age bracket of 17 to 21.
"We have had at least six or seven academy players coming through to the EP side and most of them are locally based, so it has been good,” Solomons said.
"You simply have to have a feeder system for the young players to come through.”
Former Springbok prop Robbi Kempson is in charge of the EP Academy and says about 95% to 98% of the intake of 36 is local talent.
"We start looking to boys in the u-16 age-group, but a lot of kids are contracted by the Blue Bulls and the Sharks, and to a lesser extent Western Province,” Kempson said.
"Our aim is to look at the elite players as we need that quality in the academy to develop players for the senior team.”
As EP rugby has competed in the lower tier of domestic rugby, the province has inevitably lost many players to other provinces over the years.
However, young stars like former Muir flyhalf Shane Gates, lock Reynier Barnardo (Framesby) and prop Brendan Olivier (Nico Malan) are examples of players who have elected to stay in Port Elizabeth and have begun to make an impact at a provincial level.
The inclusion of the Southern Kings in next year’s Super Rugby competition has also been a massive incentive for local players to stay at home.
In Border, Queen’s, Dale and Selborne are some of the leading schools annually producing top-class schoolboys who are regularly poached by the bigger provinces with Super Rugby status.