Would an overseas-based South African team beat the Springboks? Jake White thinks so - and wrote as much in a column on All Out Rugby.
White, 2007 Springbok Rugby World Cup-winning coach and head coach of French club Montpellier for the last three seasons, didn’t name those players he felt were still good enough to play for the Springboks. He also didn’t name a team that, if asked to play the Springboks on Saturday, would triumph.
Who knows how the Springboks of 2017 will line-up against France, but let’s revisit the Springbok team that started against Wales in the last Test of 2016 and compare it to the kind of team White could select to prove his point. It’s a like for like comparison that shows the contrast in quality and just how much experience is available to Springbok coach Allister Coetzee if he is astute enough to balance the best of those South Africans in the north with the best playing in the south.
This is Coetzee’s last Springbok line-up and what follows is an overseas-based option. You make up your mind who represents the better choice and secondly then compare the potency of the two line-ups. I certainly wouldn’t be putting a wager on the local based Boks!
Coetzee’s Boks (Wales) v My Sport24 foreign-based Saffas:
15. Johan Goosen
14. Ruan Combrinck
13. Francois Venter
12. Rohan Janse van Rensburg
11. Jamba Ulengo
10. Elton Jantjies
9. Faf de Klerk
8. Warren Whiteley
7. Uzair Cassiem
6. Nizaam Carr
5. Lood de Jager
4. Pieter-Steph du Toit
3. Lourens Adriaanse
2. Adriaan Strauss
1. Tendai Mtawarira
The Boks' backs against Wales totalled 40 international appearances, which made the unit the most inexperienced backline in the history of the Springboks in the professional era. And it showed.
This is the Northern Hemisphere team I’d pick to hammer Coetzee’s selection:
15. Gio Aplon (Grenoble)
14. Willie le Roux (Wasps)
13. JP Pietersen (Leicester)
12. Frans Steyn (Montpellier)
11. Bryan Habana (Toulon)
10. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster)
9. Francois Hougaard (Worcester)
8. Duane Vermeulen (Toulon)
7. Schalk Burger (Saracens)
6. Francois Louw (Bath)
5. Juandre Kruger (Toulon)
4. Paul Willemse (Montpellier)
3. Jannie du Plessis (Montpellier)
2. Bismarck du Plessis (Montpellier)
1. Albertus Buckle (Grenoble)
All of these players have been influential at some stage of the 2016/17 Northern Hemisphere season. There is a distinct difference in class and that’s why the Welsh public and media called the Boks imposters and asked for the whereabouts of the ‘real’ Springboks.
The comparison highlights the quality of South African Test player earning his income outside of South Africa. This selection of mine is just a sampling of who is overseas because there are more than 300 South Africans playing professional rugby abroad.
The Saffas up north should be seen as part of the solution to a stronger Boks and South Africa should be the only country with the right to select South Africans.
The issue in professional rugby should not be one of overseas-based nationals but of how rugby-playing nations up north are piloting projects that identify southern hemisphere talent and recruit them to the north on a three year residency basis to become eligible for Test rugby.
The professional game should allow club movement every and anywhere, but it should not be allowed to mask what is happening at Test level.
Scotland, for example, selected 18 players born outside of Scotland for their most recent Six Nations campaign and 21 nationalities were represented among the Six Nations teams.
In the 1987 tournament just five players (one from each nation) were born overseas and nine in total played for a different country from their birthplace.
The UK-based Daily Mail Newspaper reported that 53 of the 210 players selected for the 2017 tournament were born overseas:
*15 qualified on residency grounds, 13 via a grandparent and 25 through parents.
*41 players in the home nations squads were born outside the country they represented.
Wales, in 2016, included 13 foreign-born players. This year the number was 10. Italy in 2016 had 10 and in 2017 the number was eight.
England’s (Australian coach) Eddie Jones, in his first year, selected 12 players born outside of England and in 2017 the number was seven.
Ireland’s foreign contingent was nine in 2016 and six in 2017 but the Irish Independent’s Ruaidhri O’Connor worked out that under Kiwi Joe Schmidt, who has been in charge of Ireland since 2013, almost 25 percent of the squad has qualified on residency and another 12 percent on heritage.
Rugby World Magazine reported that Schmidt had capped 25 new internationals and most of them were ‘as Irish as spaghetti and pizza’.
South Africa’s CJ Stander was Ireland’s first targeted three-year pilot project and the latest is former NZ’s 2012 World Championship Under-20 and Chiefs Super Rugby hooker, Rhys Marshall.
The biggest myth among supporters is that the All Blacks are the Pacific Islands in disguise, when the reality is that in the 2011 World Cup four of the All Blacks squad were born outside of New Zealand and 22 of the Samoan squad were born in New Zealand.
Samoa and Tonga, at the 2015 World Cup, selected 25 New Zealand-born players and in excess of 40 New Zealanders played for other countries.
A South African run-on XV represented other countries at the 2011 World Cup and the number in 2015 was 10 and the listed team is an example of South African Test exports:
15. Scott Spedding (France)
14. Kotaro Matsushima (Japan)
13. DTH van der Merwe (Canada)
12. Brad Barritt (England)
11. Nick Abendanon (England)
10. Tommy Allan (Italy)
9. Rory Kockott (France)
8. Josh Strauss (Scotland)
7. Bernard le Roux (France)
6. CJ Stander (Ireland)
5. Quinton Geldenhuys (Italy)
4. Johannes van Heerden (Romania)
3. WP Nel (Scotland)
2. Richardt Strauss (Ireland)
1. Allan Dell (Scotland)
Don’t look at the individual make-up of the above team but focus more on the principle of how wrong it is to want to restrict Springbok selection but so easily give up South African talent to other countries.
World rugby has to make the residency qualification period longer than three years if it is to protect the nationalism that should be a given with playing Test rugby for one’s country.
But until they do we in South Africa simply can’t afford to ignore quality South African players up north and still try and sell the Springboks as representative of the finest South African rugby players.
(Jake) White is right when he says that a Northern Hemisphere-based Bok team would beat one playing out of South Africa.
But we are all wrong in even making that comparison because inclusiveness and unity in South African playing resources is the key to Springbok rugby’s resurgence.
South African rugby’s objective must be to pick the very best South Africans for the Springboks and World Rugby’s objective must be to redress the residential rule that is at the heart of the identity of so many Test teams today.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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