Lloyd Burnard

Chiliboy being treated like a 'quota'

2017-11-06 10:16
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - When Springbok coach Allister Coetzee named his side for the September 30 Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies in Bloemfontein, Chiliboy Ralepelle's name stood out immediately. 

Banned from the sport after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in 2014, a return to the national side for the first time since 2013 meant that the 31-year-old had recovered from the lowest point of his career. 

Ralepelle had made his comeback, against the odds, with the Sharks in April last year and after a string of impressive performances he had earned the right to wear the green and gold once more. 

Coetzee, though, had other ideas. 

With Malcolm Marx crucial to the Bok cause as they laboured to a 27-27 draw against the Wallabies, Ralepelle was denied his big moment as he looked on from the bench throughout. 

Selected in the matchday 23 for the next weekend's date with the All Blacks in Cape Town, Ralepelle endured the same fate. 

Marx was immense that day too, and Ralepelle had gone two Tests without getting on the park.  

It was a cruel 10-day period for a man who was all smiles at that Thursday team announcement in Bloemfontein, but things were about to get even worse. 

Upon his return to the Sharks, Ralepelle was snubbed by coach Robert du Preez for both the Currie Cup semi-final against the Blue Bulls and the final against Western Province. 

Having effectively been told he was back to being the second best hooker in the country, Ralepelle was then not even in the top two at his union as Franco Marais and Akker van der Merwe were backed for the playoffs. 

The Sharks, of course, would go on to lose in the final. 

According to a report in the Sunday Times and in line with the mumblings doing the rounds in the Kings Park press box on Currie Cup final day, Ralepelle is not happy with how he has been treated at the union and he has now hit out at Du Preez. 

Does he have a right to be upset? 

The short answer? Of course he does. 

Bongi Mbonambi, when dropped by Coetzee at the Boks for Ralepelle, went straight back into the WP starting line-up upon his return. 

The merits of Du Preez's decision can be argued both ways, though.

He is the coach, and he must pick whoever he believes is the right man for the job on the day.

But Ralepelle's inclusion in the squad for the business end of the tournament, given that he had just had a Bok recall, surely would have made more sense. 

There seems to be a lack of communication between either the Boks and the Sharks, the Boks and Ralepelle, the Sharks and Ralepelle - or all of the above.

It is never nice to have these internal disagreements pop up in the media, and if Ralepelle had been appropriately engaged with from a Sharks and Springbok perspective, then this mess could likely have been avoided. 

No player has a right to be selected above another, but Ralepelle's treatment over the last few weeks of the season does send out the wrong message. 

What of the Springbok coaching Indaba last October when the main aim was to get the Super Rugby and provincial coaches all on the same page in bettering the Boks together? 

As a man who was certain to be a part of the end-of-year tour, Ralepelle could have done with some game time in the high-pressure Currie Cup playoffs. 

But the fact that he was completely side-lined doesn't benefit the Boks at all and you have to go back to September 23 to find the last time that Ralepelle played a competitive game of rugby.

Where is the alignment between the Boks and the unions? 

A similar situation unfolded at Loftus this season when Blue Blulls coach John Mitchell opted against playing Handre Pollard in a round robin fixture. 

While that selection would certainly have aided the Boks, Mitchell argued that it would stunt the continuity he was trying to build in Pretoria.

In an ideal world, the decisions taken at the franchises and unions would mirror the intentions of the Springbok management. 

New Zealand operates like that, but it is not worth getting into those comparisons again. 

One of the major concerns with the Indaba last October was exactly what we have seen in the Ralepelle case. 

Franchise coaches are under their own pressures to deliver results and, from what we have seen, achieving those results is more important to them than aiding the Bok cause. 

That is certainly understandable, but if the two could go hand-in-hand that would be ideal. 

Coetzee, remember, is under pressure to select a squad that is made up of 50% players of colour for the 2019 World Cup. 

Ralepelle, who has 22 Tests to his name and is considered one of the most accurate lineout throwers in the country, is absolutely in the Bok set-up because he deserves to be there. 

But when Coetzee can't entrust the player with a minute on the park over two Tests, and then he returns to his franchise where he is dropped for two white hookers, that's when words like 'quota' start getting thrown around irresponsibly and, in this case, the coaches are bringing it upon themselves. 

There were four players of colour in the Sharks' squad for the Currie Cup final - three in the starting line-up and one on the bench. 

For a country that is said to be accelerating its transformation process, that number tells its own story. 

How is the Bok coach supposed to pick a representative squad when the unions and franchises are not interested in doing the same?

Whether or not Ralepelle is the second best hooker in South Africa right now is a separate conversation, but once he has been told that he is, then he must be treated as such. 

Du Preez is in the headlines this week, but Coetzee actually got off lightly for his treatment of Ralepelle during the final two weeks of the Championship.

Let's get everyone on the same page, and let's start backing the players we pick. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

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