Cape Town - It is indeed with great sadness that I write this piece as
it smacks of negativity and pessimism.
However, there seem to be far too many
alarm bells and warning signs in the lead-up to two events that the nation so
dearly looks forward to, both occurring only once every four years.
The Cricket and Rugby World Cups excitingly take place in
the same year. Add to this the Africa Cup of Nations (let’s all pray that
Bafana Bafana do qualify) and you already have a jam-packed sporting year in the
However, what are the chances of us really doing well at
these events and landing the coveted dream of winning two world titles in the
As a die-hard, lifelong fan, who has witnessed it all, this
is probably the first time that I expect absolutely nothing from either of our
It is not without serious thought, common sense, logic and
damning evidence (detailed below) that this will not be our year.
Poor support staff
Both Ottis Gibson and Rassie Erasmus come with a fair amount
of pedigree and even success at the highest of levels. Gibson led a weak West
Indies team to ICC silverware (a World T20 title) while Erasmus has also won titles and accumulated valuable experience along his journey, most notably
at the Cheetahs, Munster and in his role of technical advisor at the successful
2007 World Cup. Both are former players in their sport, which augurs well for
their futures as head coaches.
However, their support staff leaves much to be desired!
guru Jacques Nienaber is probably the only stand-out, but seems to have lost
some his mojo under Erasmus as the team has leaked tries. Swys de Bruin has one
eye elsewhere with the Lions. Why not hire someone who will solely focus in the
Boks? There are many candidates. A Kiwi won’t hurt either. Matt Proudfoot
didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during the doomed Allister Coetzee era
and nobody knows what Mzwandile Stick’s role actually is. A man who was fired
under the Coetzee regime but suddenly brought back. Strange, considering the wide
range of alternative candidates with far more experience.
The Proteas are no better. Hiring a school-level
batting coach (Dale Benkenstein) who never played at the highest level was
always going to come back to bite the team. All one has to do is think about
the numerous batting collapses of late, game after game. How many of our
players have scored centuries lately across the formats? Again, so many far
better qualified coaches to choose from across the globe. Since Justin Ontong
joined the team as fielding coach, there has been a serious dip in standards
and multiple dropped catches. Assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa also lacks the
credentials of other seasoned coaches and one wonders what value he actually
brings to proceedings at only 38 years of age. Where are the Geoffrey Toyanas,
Shaun Pollocks and Jacques Kallis’ of the world?
We all know about the strict transformation policies forced
onto our teams, but let’s not delve too much into this sensitive topic as it has
been done to death. Government’s 50% target for the Boks' World Cup squad are
far from being realised, but let’s hope this is not a mandatory requirement come
September. The Proteas also have a strict target to meet albeit a ‘seasonal
average’ one (a minimum of 6 non-white players in every XI across all formats,
including 3 Africans). I can’t help but wonder if this is the reason for our
best player Kagiso Rabada being overplayed, so that this number is met
(especially with Lungi Ngidi out injured). However, all players do seem to be
there on merit.
Also, when we won the rugby showpiece in 2007, it was on the
back of four years of continuity and a building up of caps from a core squad of
20 layers or so. Due to the disastrous Coetzee era and Rassie doing an
ambulance job, we had to start from scratch last year and this derailed any
momentum that we hoped to have had compared to 2007. There are far too many
spots and combinations that are uncertain.
The Proteas have also failed to settle on a starting XI and
have only the five Sri Lankan One-Day Internationals to decide on a squad of 15. Poor planning indeed. During the recent Pakistan series, we selected
players who are never going to make the squad (Dane Paterson, Beuran
Hendricks). Also, why are bowlers such as Dale Steyn and Rabada coming in at No 8 in the batting line-up? That is far too high. We need a second
all-rounder to partner Andile Phehlukwayo and this should have been planned two
years in advance!
The above-mentioned two key aspects are just the tip of the
iceberg and there are other damning facts that need to be looked at - fast. The Proteas
have many old players who are off-form (Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir) while a
stalwart like JP Duminy is still injured and talisman AB de Villiers is no
longer with us. Are we going to persist with them in the name of experience?
The number of top rugby players who have left our shores is yet another dent in
Yes there are positives such as the captaincy of both teams,
the Boks' series win against England and beating the All Blacks away last year,
but these are far outweighed by all the question marks.
My message to the men in green and gold would be to prove me
wrong and pleasantly surprise us (seeing Faf and Siya lift those cups will be
the ultimate panacea for our country) as early exits or ‘par-for-the-course
knockout-round eliminations’ would hardly be surprising at all.
Dhirshan Gobind is a respected freelance sports columnist and is a
writer for the South African Football Association (SAFA).
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