September 06, 2016 by
Between them, Adriaan Strauss and AB de Villiers have generated numerous headlines and many words of copy over the last couple of days, but whatever one thinks of their sporting achievements, what is more important is that they are both fine men who enjoy enormous respect from everyone who works with them.
Unfortunately, South African sports fans being what they are, both have also had to face enormous vitriol and unfair denigration on social media, especially Strauss in the last couple of weeks.
Of course we are all disappointed with how the Springboks have been performing lately and Strauss’s own form has not exactly been inspirational, but so much of the criticism is uninformed and ignores the core roles he performs in the scrums and lineouts. As for his leadership, the players go out of their way to say what a good captain he is.
With so many veteran Springboks departing the scene in between the Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee eras, this is a new-look team that is going to take time to settle, especially since they are trying to forge a new game plan. The side that started in Salta had only six players with more than 40 caps in the 23.
Even the Lions took three years to settle into their new style of play, so the most important thing the Springboks need right now is patience. They are in a transitional period, which is perhaps why Coetzee chose someone like Strauss to be the captain for the first year, seeing as though he knew at the time of the appointment that the hooker would be retiring from Test rugby at the end of 2016.
By the end of this year, Warren Whiteley could have made himself a definite starter at eighthman plus Pat Lambie could well have returned.
I know patience is not something South African sports fans are particularly known for, but there are very few successful teams who don’t go through bad patches. Before they won the 1995 World Cup, the Springboks were no great shakes either and Jake White nearly lost his job in 2006, a year before lifting the biggest prize in rugby.
Removing Coetzee from his post anytime soon will serve absolutely no purpose and should not even be considered.
Such bad patches also happen on an individual level as De Villiers, now considered by many to be the best batsman in the world, himself described at the launch of his autobiography this week. Between 2005 and 2008, he played 17 Tests without scoring a century and made just six half-centuries.
“I’m always very scared of failing before I go out to bat and there used to be ducks at international level and I’d be in tears in the shower. One of the low points came in 2006 at SuperSport Park, my home ground, when coach Mickey Arthur told me I was running out of chances after another soft dismissal, and in 2007 I was just surviving, I probably should have been dropped.
“I’d had a taste of the dream and I was going to throw it away. But then came a huge moment in 2007 when Jacques Kallis approached me and told me that to earn his respect I have to find some consistency. He was willing to work with me, especially on my defence,” De Villiers said.
Even the most naturally gifted, world-conquering sports stars have their dips in form. The Proteas have seen their patience with De Villiers rewarded many, many times over, never mind how many spectators he has thrilled beyond measure in that time.
Similarly, Allister Coetzee and the Springboks need to be allowed time to find their groove together. Hysteria and short-term thinking will do their cause no good at all.