Notwithstanding the fact that Australian cricket teams and New Zealand rugby sides have generally been the best in the world during the last two decades, it is a habit that is not always beneficial for our national teams. Mostly because we have different strengths and therefore what works best for them won’t necessarily be the best approach for us.
But there is one current debate in Springbok rugby which I believe can be neatly resolved by taking a leaf out of the All Blacks’ book.
Amongst the many unfair criticisms that are being hurled at Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, one of the least intelligent ones is that he is going to take a geriatric team to the World Cup. In this regard, I have to say, like our venerable Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu did recently in supporting HelpAge International, that “I am for people of all ages”.
Looking back at the previous seven World Cups, it is clear that nobody is going to win the Webb Ellis Cup without experience. Meyer is certainly not alone in wanting to include some cool older heads in his side – we need only look at the team New Zealand coach Steve Hansen put on the field yesterday to open their Rugby Championship campaign.
With only a handful of matches left before they begin the defence of their 2011 title, Hansen is not going to be messing around with players that aren’t going to be in contention for the World Cup.
The All Blacks team that belted Argentina in Christchurch yesterday contained half-a-dozen players who are over 30 – Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock. Add in 29-year-olds Kieran Read and Luke Romano, and the average age of yesterday’s starting XV was 29.13 years.
The likes of Ben Smith (29) and Conrad Smith (33) are almost certainly going to be World Cup starters and other players who should return and will push up the average age are Julian Savea (24 compared to Charles Piutau 23), Aaron Smith (26, while TJ Perenara is 23) and Liam Messam (31).
The likely All Blacks team for a World Cup final would have an average age of 29.60 years.
Meyer’s probable first-choice team – Le Roux, Pietersen, De Villiers, De Allende, Habana, Pollard, Du Preez, Vermeulen, Alberts, Louw, Matfield, Etzebeth, Du Plessis x2 and Mtawarira – is actually younger than that – 29.33 years.
There are nine players over 30, but there are also three key players who are 23 or younger – 23-year-old centre Damian de Allende (Jan Serfontein is 22), 21-year-old flyhalf Handre Pollard and 23-year-old lock Eben Etzebeth. That seems to me to be a good balance between experience and youthful energy.
And there’s even a chance that the Springboks will have some outrageous young talent like Marcell Coetzee (24), Pieter-Steph du Toit (22), Frans Malherbe (24) and Steven Kitshoff (23) dancing around the UK fields, which would make South Africa’s team even younger.
So the next time an ill-informed someone moans about the geriatric Springbok team at the World Cup, those are the facts to dispel that argument; New Zealand, the outright favourites and world number ones, have an even older side!
In the pressure-cooker environment of a do-or-die knockout game at the World Cup, you need players who have been there and done it, who have proven their mettle when the stakes are highest.