We need to draw a line in the sand
As the anger and discontent over the Springbok performance at Twickenham continues to simmer, it seems the same questions keep swirling around when it comes to the state of South African rugby.
And again, despite the outcry about the obvious problems and the structural challenges, we have to ask ourselves one thing – when will a line in the sand be drawn?
To be fair to the Springboks on Saturday, they were always going to up against it. Nine of the 23 joined the team on Sunday after still plying their trade in other time zones across the world, the team had four sessions together and were expected to take on one of the form sides in the world in their own backyard.
And England had months to prepare for this game. Their system, crafted on the backs of a strong currency, saw the team have several training camps and a two-week session in Portugal with one goal in mind – to beat the Springboks.
The Green and Gold is disjointed, unsure of the way they want to play, without a defensive system that anyone on the field looks to believe in, and with players who look listless and uninspired.
Despite the coaching indaba a few weeks ago, it is abundantly clear that a talk shop will do little to address the problems, especially when larger problems are ignored on the national front.
So we ask again, when will we draw a line in the sand?
The news isn’t encouraging – last week Allister Coetzee admitted that Eben Etzebeth would play for Saracens in the new year, creating a precedent that will haunt Springbok rugby for a long time to come.
It started when they allowed Blitzbok Francois Hougaard to go play for Worcester for six weeks last year, and Hougi was the first SARU contracted player to be allowed to play overseas while under contract with SARU.
Now think about that precedent for the moment.
Here we have a massive problem with players heading overseas. The latest count is 350 in Europe and Japan and a dearth of depth here in South Africa. We have a young and inexperienced Springbok team struggling to keep up with the demands of the modern game, and we have players who, it seems at times, are more concerned by their paymasters than the Green and Gold jersey.
It doesn’t make a for a healthy situation all round.
And now, in the midst of deciding whether or not we pick only from South Africa, we allow one of the greatest cogs in the Bok pack to go play overseas as well – while under contract with SARU.
So why should any other player stay in SA? Why won’t those others on SARU contracts also look to play overseas? When will these players be rested?
Some Super Rugby franchises have already banned players from playing in Japan in the off season as so often they are injured and return to do their “rehab” during Super Rugby. One only has to think of the form of some of these players since returning – or the injuries to players like Handre Pollard and Damian de Allende – for the perfect examples.
Add to this the growing concern of conditioning among the Boks – there are reports that some of our top players could not pass the under-20 fitness levels – and the concern continues to grow.
The All Blacks – who control all their players – give their players prescribed fitness levels to attain and those who don’t simply don’t wear the jersey. Here we placate players because we cannot do without them.
A while back some readers scoffed when I said we were on the way to being Fiji, where our best players either play in Europe or for other countries.
This weekend another two players – Allan Dell and Corniel du Preez qualified for Scotland, while Huw Jones – who was born in Edinburgh but could have qualified for SA if we wanted him – had a blinder for the Scots.
Our rugby is bleeding – make no mistake about that. The system is failing us and the coaches are panicking – and in the panic, they make mistakes.
It is time we stop kidding ourselves and put the Springboks first – I’ve said it before and will say it again.
It is time to get the system right. To draw a line in the sand.
We desperately need control of our Springboks back – in conditioning, training camps, playing style. We need a squad that will work together to re-establish Bok rugby at the top again.
It will be painful in the beginning and we will need patience.
But to continue papering over the cracks isn’t working.
And the pain we saw at Twickenham on Saturday will only increase.