The well-known adage, “the more things change
the more they stay the same” is perhaps more true for rugby than for any other
institution in South Africa.
It was just last year when many of us were
granted our wish with the sacking of Heyneke Meyer and the subsequent appointment
of Allister Coetzee. The slow appointment
process that followed led to a range of negative consequences and outcomes for
both Coetzee and the Springboks. We all
know the story and I will not bore you with it again.
Since then former SARU president, Oregan
Hoskins, wilted under the growing discontent among his fellow executive members
and resigned, supposedly over his handling of the Jurie Roux saga.
In SARU, what you see and what you get, or
even what is officially media-released, almost always has a very good chance of
later being contradicted by some or other “reputable source”.
Nevertheless, Hoskins was replaced by his
deputy president, Mark Alexander, who (if you can recall) was his original
“running mate” as deputy, then later opposed him, just to return again as
deputy president under the same Hoskins.
Another recent change was the election of Francois Davids, the former
Boland President, as deputy president ahead of Thelo Wakefield of Western Province. To address the gender component, SARU also co-opted
Ilhaam Groenewald (Director of Sport at Stellenbosch University) onto the
With all these changes we hoped for fresh
thinking and a clearer sense of direction in the SARU boardroom.
Unfortunately, none of it has been
forthcoming, in fact, it’s been business as usual.
The federation still has a CEO who is accused
by his former employer of embezzling millions of rands and who is apparently
still under investigation by the Hawks. The organisation is desperately in need of
decisive leadership, first and foremost in the boardroom and secondly, in the
management and coaching of the Springboks, the biggest and only value
proposition the business has to offer.
In times like these leaders must step up and
do what needs to be done to get the business back on track. In rugby it seems the opposite is happening -
everyone has gone quiet.
We were promised clarity on Coetzee’s
position as Springbok coach before the end of January 2017, well, it’s mid-February
and still nothing.
The Baby Boks recently had a training camp in preparation
for the World Rugby Under-20 Championship that takes place in June 2017 in
Georgia; they too are still without a coach and a management team.
Things were supposed to get better, but it is
clear that it is getting worse by the day.
Who will take responsibility for the failure of the Baby Boks and the
Springboks come July? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
But enough of the torture and
speculation. Let’s rather talk about the
chances of our Super Rugby franchises for Super Rugby 2017.
Just looking at the squads and the first
pre-season friendly results, the early signs are that the Stormers, Sharks and
Bulls will be the pace setters. Notwithstanding the fact that we’ll only be speculating without any real
substance to go on, I am still prepared to put down my marker for one or two of
these teams based on the composition of their squads, management teams and 2016
I am tipping the Sharks as the winner of the
South African Conference this year. The
team has recovered from the loss of Marcel Coetzee and a few other regulars and
used the Currie Cup to blood a number of youngsters which will give them the
required depth that is so important in Super Rugby.
The return of Patrick Lambie and Cobus Reinach
will do wonders for the Durban outfit.
Inny Radebe, Garth April and Curwin Bosch will provide more than capable
back-up. Last year Bosch
vindicated the confidence in him with very mature performances in the Sharks
jersey. He reminded me of a young Lambie when he progressed to the Sharks senior sides in 2008.
In the forwards players like Chilliboy
Ralepelle, Beast Mtawarira, Stefan Lewies and Keegan Daniel will most certainly grab
their last opportunity to make a statement in Super Rugby. Robert du Preez has settled down in Super
Rugby and comes across as a coach that is patient and who is prepared to give
talented youngsters a go. I have a
feeling that they are going to reward him this year with great
performances. Go Sharks!
While the Lions will continue to be up there
among the contenders, they will not have the luxury of catching their opponents
off-guard two years in a row. They will
be watched with eagle eyes and local coaches would have worked out counters for
the Lions’ strengths and as a result they will lose more of their 50/50
games this time around. I expect them to
finish around mid-table.
The Stormers have signed up a few discards
from the Bulls, which I assume is merely as back-up for potential injuries. A
plus for the Stormers is the consistency of their management team with the
addition of Paul Feeney, a New Zealander, to provide a fresh angle in attack.
It remains to be seen whether this will add
value to the team and how he will combine with Paul Treu who has managed to
establish a greater sense of purpose and technical awareness among the players
in defence. In the latter part of Super
Rugby and the Currie Cup the WP forwards found the going tough and came off
second best more often than not. They
will once again come under pressure from the Sharks, Lions, Cheetahs and Bulls
in this department. The first big test
will be in the opening encounter against the promising Bulls.
The return of Handre Pollard could just be
the spark that the Bulls has been missing. Their weak spot has been the flyhalf and scrumhalf positions. Both Tian Schoeman and Rudi Paige were
pretty average throughout 2016. I am
very excited about the potential of a Pollard/Papier (Ambrose) combination in
Super Rugby. It is here where the Bulls
need a transformation in their approach and these two are just the combination
to provide it. If they can get things
right in that department they are going to be the dark horse to watch.
After watching the Six Nation performances of
Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and France, the inactivity on the national
front (here at home) has me more worried than ever. The shear fitness and conditioning of the
players are of an extremely high standard while the skill levels, even that of
Italy, has been impressive. A good
friend of mine continues to remind me every day: the margins between winning
and losing have shrunk to millimetres and milli-seconds. We will have to lift
our game and do it fast, or we will be left too far behind to catch up.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player (1984-1986)
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