Tank Lanning

Give rugby space to breathe

2012-09-20 10:25
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
It’s not going particularly well for Heyneke Meyer is it? Given the two draws and losses resulting in the much publicised “Worse start than Peter de Villiers”, things between the four white lines have been less than ideal. And away from the field it does not look any more rosy, with that walkie talkie in the coach’s box taking more punishment than a Mike Tyson opponent, and talk of his mounting paranoia surfacing.

“These are life or death decisions for me” said Meyer after the New Zealand Test.

Now as every single Bok coach will tell you, the pressure on the man tasked with managing the top side in a rugby mad country such as ours is immense - children get taunted at school, angry fans spit at you - but is this life and death thing not taking it just a smidgeon too far?

Sure all of the players, fans, and multiple stakeholders are disappointed, but that sun still came up on Sunday - both in New Zealand and in South Africa! Life or death?

I am not sure we can blame the coach for feeling like this though? The need to win pervades our society, and as such influences every single decision made, with the repercussions met with a scathing lack of apathy. And given the unbelievable good that victories at the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cups have done for the nation, one can understand the desire to win.

But at what cost?

Sticking to the knitting … Doing what we do best … Playing the Springbok way …

At the expense of keeping an eye on trends in the sport and adapting our game to play a slightly different way perhaps? I am all for proud Springbok traditions that stem from a proud Springbok record, but is it not just a little arrogant to think that this “Springbok way” will be able to dominate a sport that is clearly evolving?

Whether the sport is evolving into a better is beast is up for debate, and a discussion for a different column, but what is palpably clear is that it is without doubt evolving. And to my mind, the Springboks are being left behind, due partly to an obsession with winning every single game, and an arrogance in believing that the “Springbok way” will always be “The way” …

A fascinating interview with Frans Steyn in the latest edition of SA Rugby magazine in which the Bok prodigy admits to succumbing to an inflated ego before his stint with Racing Metro reinforces my point.

“Ja, it’s fair to say when I was younger I had become big-headed ... I was fussed over throughout my schoolboy career, then I played for the Boks after only a couple of Currie Cup games – it happened so quickly that I probably got swept away by it all.”

“The constant attention at home probably helped give me an inflated opinion of myself. Being in Paris on my own for the most part gave me room to breathe, to find myself” said Steyn of his time with the French club.

I spoke out at the time of the constant scowl Steyn used to carry when on a rugby field prior to his time in France, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders, expecting him to either score or make a try every time he touched the ball. Having shared a prawn cocktail with the man at a recent BMW ambassadors lunch at Swartkops racetrack, I can honestly say that he is a new man - with that weight removed from his shoulders.

And it took some time away from South Africa for that to happen!

Players need to grow as people too – it was interesting listening to up and coming Western Province stars Nic Groom, Don Armand and Marcel Brache – speaking on a radio show I host – talking up the value of their experience gained away from the field while studying at UCT and playing Varsity Cup. Basically saying that life cannot be all about rugby …

Perhaps we as the public should take a cue from all this, and give both coaches and players a little space in which to grow as people, allowing South African rugby a chance to evolve?

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt

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