Rugby unity? What unity?

2017-08-20 08:30
SA Rugby logo (Supplied)

Johannesburg - It speaks volumes about our priorities that when SA Rugby announced its plans to celebrate 25 years of rugby “unity” last week the public’s preoccupation was the red Springbok jersey they will use to commemorate it in the Rugby Championship game against Argentina in Salta.

Turns out a lot of people have a very real problem with a red Bok jersey.

Former Bok lock Bakkies Botha took to twitter to voice his disapproval while his old coach Jake White rolled up his sleeves and, as the kids say, properly got in his feelings in a column about how wrong it all was.

“Doc [Danie] Craven must be turning in his grave,” he revved up.

“Next we’ll be making exceptions so a guy can play for South Africa with a ponytail ... it’s the start of a slippery slope,” White said.

How is it that we’re obsessing about a jersey and not asking what unity exactly we’re talking about?

In the two weeks since SA Rugby’s announcement, so many examples have proved that little has changed with our rugby since 1992.

The first was the naming of Eben Etzebeth as the stand-in captain over Siya Kolisi while Warren Whiteley remains injured.

Going with the abrasive lock – and this is for the legions of Etzebeth fans who will dedicate column inches to refuting this – isn’t wrong per se.

It’s just that using the numbers (Etzebeth’s 50-plus caps) and a pre-existing vice-captaincy (due to said numbers) to make the call smacks of more of the same by the powers that be.

If they wanted to make a bold statement about rugby’s so-called unity they could have gone with Kolisi, who has come from nowhere and got everyone to relate to him and has united people in the sport through his honesty, passion and approachability.

However, making such a call would mean rocking the boat about what a Bok captain looks like. And we wouldn’t want Doc Craven to turn in his grave, would we?

Another example is the fanfare that accompanied Victor Matfield’s drawing to the Lions fold as forwards coach. While not a like for like swap, Matfield’s chance on Swys de Bruin’s staff came at Bafana Nhleko’s cost.

Nhleko is a 34-year-old coach who has been with the Lions since 2011 and led their SuperSport Rugby Challenge team to the semifinals of that competition.

But just as he expects to get a tap on the shoulder for higher honours, he gets jettisoned to go coaching Defence Under-20s again.

Simply put, the Lions have built Nhleko up as a coach for six years, so that they can doubt his ability just as he proves his readiness for more responsibility.

I marvel at the fact that we in the media can write a story in which we mention Elton Jantjies and Handrè Pollard in the same breath, when
one has been the country’s number one flyhalf (at Super Rugby level, anyway) for the past two years and the other has barely played in the same period.

But we’re taking our cue from the selectors, who picked Pollard on the basis that, despite numerous injuries, he could walk in a straight line, as opposed to perform.

And then we haven’t even really spoken about the coaches (Johan Ackermann, De Bruin and Robert du Preez) who oversee the successes of their sons by giving them all the breaks, by either coaching them or finding them jobs at their unions.

Elsewhere it’s called nepotism, but in rugby it’s the natural order of things.

But no, a red jersey is the problem.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa


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