Over-aged players shame SA schools rugby

GARETH DUNCAN reports on the KZN over-age saga that shocked the national schools rugby scene.

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Last weekend, reports emerged that several KZN schoolboys were found to be older than the U18 and U19 age-group school and provincial teams they were selected for. One of the players was reported to be 22 years old.

These players presented fake birth certificates upon high school enrollment. However, KZN head of high school rugby Noel Ingle confirmed that one schoolboy was caught out when a particular school was compiling matric entries. A provincial investigation followed.

The KZN High Schools Rugby Association, with the support of the local schools, employed an immigration expert to carry out a verification process. This was to ensure that no players representing the province or their respective schools at any level were over age.

Siyabonga Tom

No names have officially been released, but keo.co.za’s Schoolboy Derby has it on good authority that two of these schoolboys were Glenwood captain and wing Siyabonga Tom and DHS fullback Mbembe Payi. Both players hail from Port Elizabeth and were granted sport bursaries to attend the respective schools. They both played 1st XV rugby and are KZN U18 Craven Week representatives.

Tom also made the SA Schools team and started against France U18 in last year’s Tri-Nations curtain-raiser in PE. He was then selected for the SA U18 Sevens side that competed at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man. However, he was dropped from the latter squad as he didn’t possess an ID or passport to make the trip to Europe.

Tom and Payi have left their respective schools since being exposed and are reportedly ‘missing’. They were also absent from the Glenwood-DHS clash in Durban last Saturday, which was televised on SuperSport.

Ingle, who couldn’t confirm the names of the players or schools being investigated, said the matter was being dealt with accordingly.

‘Schools that have over-age players have been informed,’ Ingle told this site. ‘Individual schools have dealt with these matters internally in good faith, and due process will take place.

‘The schools that have been mentioned in the press are not the only schools that found over-age players in their teams. It would be injudicious of me to mention either the player’s names or the names of the schools.

‘We have completed a verification process,’ he continued. ‘The problem is not widespread, but nevertheless, one over-age player is a serious matter. The consequences of serious injury due to an over-age player are too horrendous to contemplate.’

Sharks Academy operations manager Roelof Kotze, who was the SA U18 Sevens squad’s team manager during Commonwealth Youth Games, suggested that this is a national problem.

‘If it happened in KZN, you better believe this is happening in other regions too,’ said Kotze. ‘Players, parents and even agents will do anything for the best opportunities to secure a professional rugby career.

‘There are steps that can be put in place to help solve this matter, but this problem is so sensitive. Players will start accusing each other, and innocent players who are accused will complain. We need input from a national union to sort out this mess.’

Saru does not officially manage school matters, but these are monitored by the South Africa Schools Rugby Association (Sasra).

Sasra acting chairman Thys Bezuidenhout stated that these incidents were ‘highly upsetting’ and he was dumbfounded how these players escaped the national verification procedures.

‘When a player is selected for the junior provincial weeks, they have to fill out a form with their birth certificates or ID copies attached,’ said Bezuidenhout. ‘These are then verified through Saru, who pass these on to home affairs to be checked. So how these players managed to get away with it in the first place is a big mystery.

‘I last heard of an over-age incident during the U18 Craven Week five years ago, when two boys were caught out. Since then, we haven’t had any issues.

‘Hopefully we will be able to resolve this incident. The necessary action will be taken.’

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