Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Special report: School footy no road to riches

Young players dazzled by the allure of a rugby career without allowing for the high rate of failure, say agents

Portrayed as a life of glamour laden with fame, riches and opportunity, the first two years of the typical professional rugby career are anything but.

Few of the 20-50 boys in the Auckland 1A competition who are offered some kind of professional football contract every year realise the treacherous career path that lies ahead and even fewer comprehend the discouraging statistics that weigh against them.

Yet despite the relatively tiny numbers who actually carve out a living as professional players, the landscape-changer in the 1A in terms of driving investment and recruitment has been the prospect of rugby being a potential career option.

Schools across Auckland are justifying the heavy emphasis they place on rugby on the basis that some boys' best chance in life is to chase the professional dream.

Everyone can see what lies on one side of the path - Super 15 contracts, possible All Black caps, six-figure salaries and an ever-eager overseas market willing to pay incredible sums for even the plodders.

But the prospects of making it all the way down that path are astonishingly slim - and maybe only 5 per cent, usually less, of those 1A schoolboys who enter the professional ranks in any given year will survive long enough to actually make a living out of the sport.

The statistics (see below) make for a sobering read.

It's a cut-throat business and the game is full of dark stories of those rejected - boys who reached for the stars and never prepared for the prospect of not making it there.

College Sport chief executive Manoj Daji would like to see a research project to determine the tertiary education and vocational achievements of former 1st XV stars who enter professional programmes.

Like many with knowledge of the system, he suspects many boys leave school without a realistic Plan B.

All the 1A schools claim they push the academic message to their 1st XV members, but Simon Porter, an agent with Essentially - the group that looks after many of the biggest names in world rugby including Dan Carter and Richie McCaw - says that although the system does what it can to encourage boys to keep studying, it's not necessarily that easy to convince them.

"The Players' Association have a professional development programme in each union," Porter says, "but at the end of the day it's about the athletes choosing to engage in the programme, which is often difficult to do when the youngsters have their sights set firmly on cracking a professional contract."

Normally, 1st XV boys are offered two-year provincial union contracts when they leave school. These have to be a minimum of $2500 a year under the terms of the player collective and all boys in the programme have to enrol in either study, an apprenticeship or some kind of part-time employment.

At the end of the two years, the unions will decide - they can do it before - whether that player should be offered a full ITM contract that is worth a minimum of $15,000. If not, he may be offered an academy contract extension or, more likely, he will be cut entirely.

"Typically they continue to believe in the dream [if they are cut] and it's often the case that there will be another province in New Zealand who will be willing to take a chance on them," says Bruce Sharrock, a director of leading agency Esportif.

"But usually it's a case of the player not being keen on becoming another nine-to-fiver and joining the real world. Unfortunately a lot of people are not always honest with these kids.

"My role is to be honest and supply them with the best information and advice," Sharrock said.

The problem was these talented kids had an ego and there were too many people complicit in feeding it - agents, teachers, parents and provincial unions, he said.

"Unfortunately some take their eye off the educational ball, if they ever had it there."


A long way to the top

• Those boys who make the New Zealand Secondary Schools team have a 60 per cent chance of going on to make an ITM Cup team.

• Of those 60 per cent, about 33 per cent will earn a Super rugby contract.

• The chance of any of those players then making the All Blacks is about 7 per cent.

• Those boys who make the NZ under-20 side have a 95 per cent chance of making an ITM Cup squad.

• Those boys who make the NZ under-20 side have a 73 per cent chance of going on to play Super rugby.

• The odds for those who switch to league are, if anything, worse. Nearly 75 per cent of players offered a National Youth Competition Contract won't go any further in the NRL.

• The average length of an NRL career is 43 games and the average salary in that period is around $100,000.

1st XV Mania - Win at what cost?
A week-long investigation into schoolboy rugby's dirty little secret
Sunday - Schoolboy rugby's dirty little secret
Monday - Auckland rugby's rich-poor divide
Tuesday - Scepticism at St Kent's
Yesterday - Sky TV fuelling the obsession
Tomorrow - The great school rivalries through the eyes of former stars

- NZ Herald

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