ANY GIVEN MONDAY with Dylan Cleaver
The gist of the Mueller Report into the Trump campaign that has so thoroughly dominated American political discourse could be summed up by saying that a lot of dodgy stuff went down, there was some collateral damage, but the main player did not necessarily break any rules.
The Castle Report into schoolboy rugby, released on the same weekend, could be summed up by saying that a lot of dodgy stuff has been going on, there has been some collateral damage, but the main player didn't necessarily break any rules.
In both cases, the opposing forces are probably asking themselves what just happened?
On the face of it, Castle Report looks like a sensible piece of work; baby steps towards leadership in an area where there has been a vacuum. Likewise, and credit where it's due, it appears St Kentigern College has realised that although they might be on the right side of the rule of law, they have long been on the wrong side of the rules of fair play.
I'm not sure many people saw this climb-down coming, where they have agreed to stand down all their new-to-school players for the first six games of the season, and their "two most directly affected players" for any potential semifinal or final.
Yes, this might be mere window dressing, but it is at least moving in the right direction.
Compare and contrast the change in messaging from St Kents' leadership since the Herald broke the news that 10 1A Auckland schools were preparing to boycott the wealthy independent school this year – a boycott endorsed and backed up by the down-country Super 8 schools.
December 5, 2018, head of school David Hodge: "The crux of the issue is simply that each school is allowed six players new to school in the team each year. And each school generally has those six players come in. Their problem is that our players are better than their players."
March 25, 2019, trust board chairman John Kernohan: "The panel confirmed Saint Kentigern has followed the rules of this competition. We also accept that over several years we should have recognised concerns about an advantage being gained through the enrolment of students and their selection for the 1st XV."
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Kernohan is right. The warning signs have been flashing in neon but those most responsible just put the blinders on and kept charging ahead.
In 2017, Kelston Boys' High School principal and former Black Ferns coach Brian Evans spelled it out clearly.
"The complexities of school sport are huge," Evans said. "It's going to be a massive issue for New Zealand sport in the next 10 to 20 years. There was a time when you would get All Blacks out of [low decile state schools]. I think that will become a thing of the past, unfortunately. Sport is simply dying in some schools. It's expensive and they don't have the resources to compete, so they give up —and I am not going to sit here and blame them.
"It's just not a level playing field anymore," Evans continued. "How do the other schools keep up? Should they even try to? It's so complex… Rugby will become an elite schoolboy game. I have a feeling we're already on this pathway."
In two short years his prescience is writ large.
The Castle Report, St Kents' response and the attendant fallout should act as a course correction but there are still massive issues the schoolboy game has to face around the continued "professionalisation" of the big competitions.
A new set of rules around recruitment (let's not use euphemisms and just call it what it is – recruitment) must be drafted that covers 1st XV rugby nationally and they must be unambiguous. What we can't see is the arms race shift. You can almost see coaches and directors of sport in their bunkers today saying, "Well, we can't raid the caches of other New Zealand schools, so what do we…" and before the question is finished someone is pointing to Viti Levu on a map.
The whole ethos around how rugby regards schools (and vice versa) needs to change.
Last week, during a guest spot on the old valve radio I mentioned a scenario. In it, there were four extremely talented players at a low decile, poorly resourced school. Two of the four talented players were picked up on "scholarship" by wealthy, well-resourced schools.
The other two, perhaps because their specific position was well covered or because they had been in some trouble in the past, were not. They were left to play in a 1st XV that was now a lot worse than it just had been. They felt not valued because they weren't recruited. They drifted away from rugby.
It was an entirely made-up scenario, but one which many schools will recognise. Shortly after, a former All Black got in touch with one of the radio hosts. To paraphrase, he said, those two kids were never going to make it anyway because they weren't mentally tough enough.
And herein lies rugby's great 21st-century crisis: too many hold the view that if you don't "make it" you have no value. You might as well go and play basketball… so many of them do.
So what does success at schoolboy level look like? Is it winning that traditional college match against your hated rival, or is it providing clubs with 20 players per year when they leave school?
One gives you a photo of the 1st XV holding a trophy that can be splashed on the cover of your next prospectus; one gives you, well, nothing.
Those two outcomes need not be mutually exclusive, but when schools place high-performance in the middle of the classroom at the cost of everything else, they become so.
The entire culture around 1st XV rugby needs to change. Castle and, to their belated credit, St Kents, have started something, but there is a hell of a lot more work to be done before it's finished.
THE MONDAY DOCO ...
There's a documentary series on Netflix called Losers . The eight episodes traverse eight sports and eight characters and the title is bit of a misnomer. In truth, it's a patchy piece of work, but episodes four and five, about curling and ultra-marathons respectively, are well worth a watch. The curling episode looks at the obsession with winning; the running episode looks at the distances individuals will travel to fulfil personal obsessions, even if it could cost you everything.