South African rugby is in a fix. There are several problems throughout the various structures, or lack thereof, and everyone has a theory when it comes to pinpointing the exact reason why things are the way they are. Among the more popular is the transformation issue. It is a futile argument in my view as there is no actual directive on how a Springbok team must be selected. Moreover I agree with implementing so-called quotas in rugby and here is why: For some two decades rugby (and other sports too) has had the opportunity to develop talent from previously disadvantaged communities. Sheer demographics will tell you that if everyone is given a fair shake (let’s just say from Under-7 level for argument’s sake) then in 15-20 years’ time the makeup of the average South African rugby team should more closely reflect the country’s demographics and even more importantly significantly increase the country’s player pool.
You just have to look at the Eastern Province Kings to see that the chosen system by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) has failed. It has much to do with the tap being closed on its then-development programme in 2005 when someone realised that a Springbok team could actually consist of 80% black players and did not like the thought. But that is a subject for another day.
The bottom line is that since the provincial unions, and indeed SARU, are not going to do anything to help players from outside the traditional schools then how on earth will a talented rugby player, from say Queenstown or Alice, ever make it? That’s right, folks. It has to be forced. However I want to specifically address the Boks and what is wrong there.
Photo credit: UAR/Rodrigo Vergara
Some folks are complaining about Allister Coetzee and his tactics; his and his support staff. It is true that I did not endorse Coetzee’s appointment as Bok boss but he is the incumbent man and he will enjoy my support until it becomes evident that someone else should be at the helm. I do not believe that moment has yet arrived in spite of a rocky start to his tenure. So far Coetzee has had to watch his men lose to 14-man Ireland, who at times had 13 men on the field, rally back from a severe half-time deficit to beat the same Irish, put the Europeans away, pull another rabbit out of the hat against Argentina and then nearly do the same before luck finally ran out and Santiago Gonzales landed a late penalty to not only give the South Africans a taste of their own medicine, but to perhaps give them what they deserve and usher in some serious introspection.
We can talk about coach Coetzee’s tactics. We can talk about transformation but again I do not see it. Bryan Habana was the nation’s darling but is now just a quota player. Elton Jantjies was the great Super Rugby flyhalf but now is only there because of his skin colour. Yet it was okay for Juan Smith to return to the Bok setup despite embarrassingly admitting afterwards he was not fit enough! Double standards much?
Photo credit: UAR/Rodrigo Vergara
In my view Habana’s best days are behind him. But similarly I fail to see how Morne Steyn is still part of the set up and the same would be said of Johan Goosen and Francois Louw. There are even legitimate questions over skipper Adriaan Strauss – is he even the number one hooker in the country? He would not be the first number 2 in this country to be on the receiving end of such scrutiny. As you can see it really is not a black and white matter. Instead I question the commitment of the players.
If it is the highest honour for a South African rugby player to wear a green and gold Springbok jersey then I do not currently see it. Not everyone is a Faf De Klerk and not everyone will display their passion the way De Klerk does, but I am struggling to see much in the way of commitment, determination, guts, pride and passion and if the coach’s tactics are poor, and if the captain is uninspiring, at least those elements can help see you over the line more often than not. It certainly should be against most opposition outside of New Zealand, England and Australia (away) right now. At this moment in time, I see South Africa suffering a 20-point reverse in Brisbane in two weeks’ time and a 30-point hiding a week later in Christchurch.
That is unless Coetzee and Strauss and the rest of the squad can find that missing spark.