Johannesburg - The All Blacks' presence in the country has brought into sharp focus the latest catch-phrase gripping South African cricket and rugby – “team culture”.
Over the past couple of seasons, South African sports fans have had to manfully wrap their heads around the fact that the culture in question is neither the manifestation of human intellectual achievement nor the cultivation of cells.
According to Springbok psychologist Pieter Kruger, team culture is “very clear expectations and values that the team stand for, on and off the field ... one of the main building blocks in a highperformance environment.
“It gives you the foundation to work from and will drive the standards of what people do and how they do it.”
Judging by what the Proteas and the Springboks have told us, team culture is a thing that takes a whole week in a camp to build.
The cricketers were first to tell us about their culture camp last year, which was followed by the glorious run that hit a brick wall at the ICC Champions Trophy in June.
Now we have the Boks, who haven’t had one press conference this year without mentioning the C-word.
This week, the All Blacks – who, thanks to James Kerr’s book Legacy, are the kings of team culture – rolled into town with hilarious results on social media. South African fans ripped them to shreds for the earnest overachiever’s code that constitutes their team culture.
The two most important things highlighted in Legacy – basically a book about team culture’s contribution to their status as the greatest team to play the game – are how senior players sweep the changing room, and the “no d**kheads” rule.
The point is to highlight the humility of players who are basically the Messis and Ronaldos of rugby.
And, on cue, they swept into Cape Town and gave a display of this by being filmed forming a long queue to help the baggage master unload the tons of luggage from the team bus.
The All Blacks’ cleaning up after themselves has been copied all over the world, with Ireland flanker CJ Stander’s wife recently posting a video of him supposedly sweeping a dressing room, although he could have been doing household chores.
I’m reliably told that the Boks also pick up their own jockstraps, but with coach Allister Coetzee’s current defensive mood and strained media relations, the photo ops of the momentous events aren’t as readily available.
Each time Steve Hansen’s troops embark on their public outbreaks of humility, there’s no shortage of swooning fans, who this week included locals who are so vested in all things All Blacks, they sang the New Zealand anthem to welcome the team at Cape Town International Airport.
Their Springbok-supporting counterparts (if support is the right word) – miffed with their team losing both on and off the field to their supposed oldest adversaries – hit back by wondering out loud on social media why there were always cameras when the visitors’ random acts of humility took place.
This has degenerated into snarky Tweets like: “Apparently they all brushed their teeth this morning – amazing team ethic.” Unfortunately, this is what the Springboks’ dwindling fortunes have reduced us to – if you can’t beat them, mock them.
This may be a bit close to the bone, if not a cautionary tale about buying into team culture wholesale, but if we were looking to dim the halo above the All Blacks, we might have pointed out that the “no d**kheads” rule only applies to the team and not the players’ real lives.
It’s not for me to judge, but I imagine Aaron Smith and Jerome Kaino’s wives may have taken being cheated on as a d**k move, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The Boks have also endeavoured to put together a team culture to rival the All Blacks’ – but I keep hearing that some of team management are still tripping over the acceptability of Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe’s wide-brimmed gangsta rapper caps.
Clearly, we’ve got a long way to go.
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