Johannesburg - The Springbok story is not all bad news, but effective decision-making needs to be instituted from the boardroom to SA’s halfbacks.
The good news
South Africa has more than enough quality forwards and we’re talking about rugby here – good forwards are the First and Great Commandment.
Malcolm Marx is a stalwart, ditto Steven Kitshoff and, in Wilco Louw, the Boks have an old school anchorman developing. The Beast caught fire again and Eben Etzebeth has been outstanding, given the woeful circumstances under which he was saddled with the captaincy and the relative grace with which he has handled it.
Lood de Jager has regained his form, Pieter-Steph du Toit is a phenomenon and the underutilised Franco Mostert should have been given a chance at eighthman long ago.
There are literally dozens of possibilities in the loose trio, despite a heavy injury toll. But it must be balanced and was often not. You need a ball carrier, a ball fetcher and line-out jumpers. That’s why it’s shocking that Nizaam Carr, who can do all three, was disregarded by Bok selectors.
And that’s why we need to pray that Duane Vermeulen, another player who can do all three, is on the way back.
More good news
You can pick loads of black players for the Springboks and strengthen them in the process. The Boks jogged out against Wales in Cardiff with three black players and 12 white players.
Although the mostly rugby illiterate complained – and will continue to complain – that “quotas” are hurting the Boks, the truth was very different.
Aside from Siya Kolisi – who has by this stage surely managed to shut his critics up despite not being utilised properly – Carr, Warrick Gelant, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am all played enough good rugby to have earned a starting place some time ago.
The same goes for Rudy Paige, especially taking into account some other recent wearers of the No 9 jersey.
As things worked out, Paige (now and again, briefly) – and Gelant (once, out of position) and Am (for an insulting three minutes) got a chance to play. Gelant’s positional play was exploited on the wing, but he nevertheless showed what he can do with a rugby ball.
Am ensured that he got three chances to get involved and his supporters were left disgusted that he could only earn three almost meaningless minutes in Green and Gold before the end of this dismal Bok season.
Carr, a playmaker and a loose forward who likes to get involved, again proved his worth this year after two injury-plagued seasons, and is now a sought-after player in England.
Dead man walking
Allister Coetzee, another good man who stepped in the doggy doo when he accepted the post as Bok coach, was officially Dead Man Walking when he began picking a team.
Good grief, he was exceptionally poor at this. He illustrated how conservative selection can often be more fatal than its opposite. The season was already halfway over when he finally began dropping his most mediocre players, one by one. Three or four of them were with us until the bitter end and they kept us swearing all the way. And that’s his fault, not theirs.
Dear Lord, this year we got to a point where we were despondent about team selection before we even knew what the team was. Luckily, this cynicism did save us a few emotional bruises. Coetzee simply can’t stay on as Bok coach. Why would he even want to?
Wasn’t it great to see Francois Venter return to the Bok team? Even if it took Jan Serfontein saying no and Damian de Allende struggling so badly that even Coetzee wanted to drop him. You can see that Venter is a player who thinks.
The key words here are ‘decision making’. It is horrible, at all levels of our rugby. From the boardroom down to the halfbacks.
And it almost annoys me more when it comes to halfbacks.
There are virtually no scrumhalves or flyhalves in our rugby who can dictate the pace of a match, so our exceptional forwards largely go to waste. This unfortunately starts young – from overemphasised school rugby and overprescriptive school coaches.
Commendable as the idea might have seemed to require Boks to have 30 Tests under their belt before being allowed to tout their wares overseas, it has been a dismal failure.
Vermeulen and Francois Louw made themselves useful; enough so that the idea needs to be reconsidered. Pick the old timers and from anywhere, if you need them.
But there is also a need for caution on that score. French club rugby is not where you should be picking your Yest rugby players if you want to become the best in the world.
Watch a bit of Top14 and you’ll see that it’s a messy business. Decision-making? Huh, there are barely any tactics involved.
French club rugby has produced a French national side that managed to make the most feeble Springbok team in a decade look good. That’s no place to start when building a better Bok team, Madame.
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