Herman Mostert

Are Bulls being fair on Boks?

2017-09-20 11:31
Herman Mostert

Last Saturday was a dark day in Springbok history with the national team suffering its biggest ever defeat in going down 57-0 to the All Blacks in Albany.

It's clear that not all is right in South African rugby, with the national governing body no doubt having its hands full attempting to resurrect matters.

Housing six professional franchises will keep providing challenges, while a growing player exodus - more than 300 South Africans ply their trade for professional teams overseas - has depleted the strength of the game locally.

SA Rugby has in the past copped flak for not facilitating a better collaboration between the national and provincial coaches regarding the usage of Springbok players.

Improvements have been made in that regard, with SA Rugby's "rest" policy for Springboks during Super Rugby a welcome addition.

The Springbok coach has also facilitated brain-storming indaba sessions with the Super Rugby coaches for parts of the season, where ideas are shared, presumably all in aid of the national team.

But what happens if some Springboks actually need game time?

Upon their return to the country earlier this week, the Springboks opted to release seven players for Currie Cup duty.

These players - Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Wilco Louw, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dan du Preez, Handre Pollard and Rudy Paige - were all peripheral squad members who hadn't receive much - if any - game time with the Boks.

With no Rugby Championship action scheduled for this weekend, one would assume that Bok coach Allister Coetzee wants to see these players feature in the Currie Cup.

Unfortunately, the Blue Bulls seemingly believe they have bigger fish to fry.

Their executive of rugby John Mitchell has indicated that he will not pick flyhalf Pollard and scrumhalf Paige for their Currie Cup match against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

Mitchell told Afrikaans website Netwerk24 that the cohesion and growth of his Bulls team "takes preference at this stage".

"We have to get more continuity so that we can play more as a unit," Mitchell continued.

The Boks would not have released these players if they were not in need of game time and the Bulls' decision to put their own needs ahead of the national cause is an obvious concern.

One would have expected Coetzee to fall off his chair after reading the news and got on the blower to Mitchell in a hurry.

Pollard, who came on late in Saturday's massacre in Albany, is in dire need of playing time, having spent the best part of the last two seasons sidelined with injuries.

Elton Jantjies has blown hot and cold in the green and gold and Pollard's return to form is vital to add greater depth in the position, while the under-utilised Paige showed that he was itching for action when he replaced an out-of-sorts Francois Hougaard.

However, one has sympathy for and can understand Mitchell's position.

The Bulls are currently struggling in the Currie Cup and sit second from bottom in the standings, with only three wins from eight matches and in real danger of missing out on the playoffs.

They had a torrid Super Rugby season and Mitchell has a mandate to resurrect a union under pressure to return to winning ways.

However, the dire situation of a provincial union should not take preference when the national team finds itself in an deeper hole.

I can't imagine a similar scenario transpiring in New Zealand if some of their top players were seeking on-field action following a long absence.

Can you imagine Taranaki refusing to pick Beauden Barrett in New Zealand's provincial championship in order for them to gain more continuity?

When probed on the matter, a spokesperson for SA Rugby said: “The provinces can decide for themselves who they want to pick. We have released the players, but the decision to utilise them lies with the unions.”

My response: Should the final decision not lie with SA Rugby, or the Springbok coach, for that matter?

Note: The unions for the other five players released for Currie Cup duty this weekend - Western Province trio Damian de Allende (centre), Dillyn Leyds (utility back) and Wilco Louw (prop), as well as Sharks duo Chiliboy Ralepelle (hooker) and Dan du Preez (loose forward) - have yet to indicate whether they will utilise the players.

Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...

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