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Ken Borland

Rugby not expediting much joy for me 0

Posted on December 05, 2017 by Ken


I must confess to a certain sense of relief today as our rugby season (the 15-man game anyway) comes to an end this weekend with the misfiring Springboks facing a daunting assignment in Cardiff. Sad to say, but I find myself more and more irritated by rugby these days.

The uninspiring fare dished up by the Springboks, made worse by the tantalising glimpse they gave of what they are capable of in the Newlands Test against the All Blacks, brings little joy and the two domestic sides I cover, the Bulls and Sharks, have had more heartache than cheer this year. Even the Lions’ loss in the Super Rugby final still hurts.

Nevertheless, just to get two last parting shots in before Christmas, rugby made me angry twice more this week.

It’s annoying that Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is not expediting the smooth introduction of the tremendously talented Warrick Gelant into international rugby. Instead of playing him in his natural position of fullback, where change is surely required because the solid Andries Coetzee has done little to suggest star-quality, coach Coetzee has plonked Gelant on the wing for his first start.

The selection of players out of position has become something of a Springbok curse in recent years, but the disappointing treatment of Gelant might also be due to the lack of options Coetzee has on the wing. As at fullback, we can all see change is necessary, but the only other specialist wing in the squad is Raymond Rhule, and would he really improve things?

A rugby sage once told me that Springbok coaches stand or fall by selection and, judging by the number of times Coetzee has replaced an injured player with someone who plays in a different position, the current national coach is obviously failing in this regard. Just on this tour, we’ve had an eighthman, Duane Vermeulen, replacing a prop, Coenie Oosthuizen, and lock Ruan Botha came in for flank Jean-Luc du Preez, which clearly shows he got the initial selections wrong.

But the failure of WorldRugby to honour their own processes and award the 2023 World Cup to South Africa was the low point of the year; at least South Africa’s 57-0 thrashing in Albany came with plenty of wonderful rugby from the All Blacks to admire.

The duplicity and lack of integrity shown by their council members makes the blood boil, and the reputation of rugby took a major hit in London a fortnight ago.

So it was with utter shock that I observed the sheer nerve of WorldRugby this week trying to clamp down on players writing messages on their strapping. The rationale was that WorldRugby had no control over what messaging was displayed and with the pettiness typical of the jobsworths who have more regard for their own positions and privilege than the good of the game, the decision was made to clamp down.

Perhaps WorldRugby should worry more about the game being brought into disrepute by their own administrators; the message sent by the 2023 World Cup decision was far worse than anything a player could fit on to his strapping.

Sport did bring me some happiness this week though. It was wonderful to see a cricketing legend of yesteryear, Mike Procter, team up with one of the country’s most talented young writers, Lungani Zama, to launch an updated autobiography.

Procter, of course, played in an era when someone like Zama, who is a good enough cricketer to have played for the KZN Inland side before they gained first-class status, was not allowed to fully express their talents.

Procter, one of the all-time greats of South African cricket and a former national coach and selector, understands these issues and it is wonderful to see him so actively involved in cricket development through his coaching work at the Ottawa Primary School outside Durban, introducing the game to nearly a thousand underprivileged children.

A cricketer capable of taking the new ball and bowling at 145km/h, with prodigious swing, and a good enough batsman to score 254 against Western Province in a Currie Cup game, Procter was obviously a rare talent and one that the current lovers of the game really need to know more about.

He is certainly one of the contenders for the title of greatest all-rounder the game has known and the story of his playing days is augmented with fascinating accounts of his stint as an ICC match referee, having to deal with the major controversies of Darrell Hair abandoning an England v Pakistan Test match, the Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds ‘Monkeygate’ saga, and the bomb blast that ended international cricket in Pakistan.

As Caught in the Middle details, Procter is one of the heroes of the game still adding value in the present day.


Speaking about transformation 2

Posted on August 24, 2015 by Ken


It seems over the last couple of weeks that myself and my rugby writing colleagues have been speaking about transformation in rugby as much as we have been speculating over Heyneke Meyer’s final World Cup selection.

A common theme in these discussions has been that transformation is not so much about writing the wrongs of the past, but more about ensuring that Springbok rugby grows stronger and stronger; at the moment it is a minority sport in South Africa (however passionately it is supported) and it’s just common sense that taking the game to more communities will increase the talent base and therefore improve the standard of play.

There are about 500 000 rugby players in South Africa and, although the majority of those are undoubtedly White and Coloured, there are strong areas of Black representation. The Eastern Cape is a hotbed of rugby and anyone who says the sport isn’t part of Black culture should go and pay a visit to that province, where the passion for the oval ball outweighs that for football in many areas.

Transformation is about providing equal opportunities to these communities, who are undoubtedly lagging behind socio-economically due to the injustices of the past. I’ve heard many South Africans complain about the All Blacks and the Wallabies and their use of players from the Pacific islands, but we have a vast reservoir of talent that is lying untapped – we should be worried about our house and getting that in order. I am sure the Springboks will be even stronger once we maximise the talent from the Eastern Cape.

One of the other gripes I hear all the time is “So when will transformation end?”

I am indebted to rugby editor Johan Coetzee for giving the best answer to this question: When a rugby player born in Mdantsane has the same chance of making it as one born in Waterkloof.

And for those who accuse Bafana Bafana of not being fully representative: more whites have played for the national soccer team than Blacks for the Springboks.

For the majority of young Black rugby players, their challenges to success on the field are far greater – they often come from poor backgrounds where things White prospects can take for granted like nutrition, transport, decent facilities and familial support are conspicuously absent.

Even if they do make it to a professional level, their chances of gaining selection are smaller than their White counterparts, according to a thesis by Jacques du Toit of the University of Cape Town, who found that between 2007 and 2012, playing times for Whites at all levels from Vodacom Cup actually increased while that of Blacks decreased.

Through my friendship with several Black rugby writers and broadcasters, I have heard a common refrain that it is still not a level playing field at professional level, never mind the vast disparities that exist at grassroots, and the statistics seem to back that up.

The first thing that the South African Rugby Union need to do is improve access to rugby in schools across the land. Cricket South Africa have asked for the assistance of government in taking their sport into schools and earlier this week they signed an operational agreement with the departments of basic education and sports and recreation which will improve opportunities at disadvantaged schools.

Rugby needs to do the same; government has to come to the party if transformation is going to happen.

Secondly, Saru have to ensure that there is more opportunity in professional rugby for Black players to shine. That is their area of jurisdiction and, whether by quotas or some other mechanism, we cannot have a situation where levels of representation have not improved since the 2007 World Cup.

Again, they could take a leaf out of cricket’s book.

Omphile Ramela was a journeyman batsman who had never averaged over 35 in a South African domestic season, until 2014/15 when CSA’s increased targets forced the Cape Cobras to play him in just about all their games. Suddenly, given decent opportunity ie a run of games, he blossomed, averaging 48 for the Cape Cobras as they won the four-day title, and earning him a place in the SA A squad.

This week he scored a century against India A as SA A enjoyed their best day of what had been a dismal tour up till then.

Now that’s what you call transformation.



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