Rugby Championship

Are we becoming an ignorant sporting nation?

2017-10-01 06:02
Simnikiwe Xabanisa.

Johannesburg - It’s been a tough old week for Springboks coach Allister Coetzee.

With the media finally able to nail him down at press conferences after the Boks’ record defeat by the All Blacks a fortnight ago, Coetzee’s coaching, selection and alleged double-speak have come in for scrutiny.

But the one quarter whence he might have expected a little professional courtesy was the coaching fraternity, where former Stormers colleague Gary Gold – now director of rugby at English Premiership side Worcester Warriors – questioned his reasons for axing Francois Hougaard.

Faults not touched upon

In his explanation, Coetzee went along the lines of: “Look, I am not going to go and explain every individual player and why he has been left out ... not playing regularly at nine has not helped [Hougaard] with his technical ability at scrum half at Test match level".

In all fairness to Coetzee, he wasn’t exactly wrong.

Much as we all want Hougie to succeed – there lies a wonderful human being behind the tattoos, thirst-trapping Instagram posts, flashy cars and wannabe tough-guy image – he was shocking against the All Blacks.

But as Hougaard’s boss at Worcester, Gold wanted to know what deficiencies his player had.

Gold also has a point because said faults are not touched upon. This is a significant reason for the stunted growth of rugby and probably all sport in South Africa – nobody wants to bring it to the public discourse.

Hougaard and indeed Raymond Rhule’s axing were opportunities not only to get to the bottom of where the players fell short, it was also an opening to educate the public on what the Bok coaching team expects from players in those positions in line with what they are trying to do.

Sporting publics

But somewhere between covering their backsides and not wanting to hurt a player’s feelings, there is always what I consider to be an unwarranted reluctance to explain things as they are, which opens the door to the innuendo and emotion that masquerades as sporting conversation in South Africa.

In a country where there is no shortage of former international sportsmen and women occupying – and occupying is the right word here – positions as pundits, rent-a-quotes and columnists in broadcast and print media, respectively, this doesn’t make sense.

For the ratio of former Boks, Proteas and Bafana players to career broadcasters and keyboard warriors in our media, we should be one of the more well-informed sporting publics in the world.

But our ignorance knows no bounds.

Players are labelled early (too slow, too small, too mentally fragile, too black, too white) and, even when they do improve, nobody notices because not only are we watching SuperSport Blitz highlights instead of the real thing, there’s nobody in the know to tell us.

Perhaps due to the weird Omerta that exists among old Boks – those who become pundits don’t criticise current players, constructively or otherwise – we’re always left to fend for ourselves after results like 57-0 as to what went wrong, why it did, who was responsible and how it happened.

It starts with coaches, who don’t like explaining their thinking.

Basis of argument

A great example is how former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer spent much time telling us why he wouldn’t select Heinrich Brüssow, but still hasn’t explained why he went with Marcell Coetzee instead of Siya Kolisi in 2012, when both had done pretty much the same in their careers.

Though I still don’t understand, I imagine Meyer was afraid of offending black rugby fans by saying he didn’t rate Kolisi, but if he had brought in his flow charts on the subject, there may have been no racially tinged undercurrents.

The height of how ignorant we can be was an argument I had at a pub a couple of years ago, where my tipsy adversary thought he would use something I’d written a week before as the basis of his argument – until I told him who had written the piece.

. Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa



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