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Ken Borland



Focus on the overseas-based players as Springbok selection draws near 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken

 

It is a rugby truism that any coach stands or falls by his selections and Allister Coetzee’s mind will be rapidly focusing on who will represent the Springboks in the three Tests next month against France, the bulk of whom will surely be invited to the final training camp from May 20-22.

And when the first Springbok squad of 2017 is selected towards the end of the month the focus will once again be on the overseas-based players. But SA Rugby, who have done their coach precious few favours since negotiations with him began in 2015, have put him on the back foot in this regard with their new ruling that, from July 1, only players with 30 Test caps can be chosen from overseas.

If Coetzee had to just choose the most in-form team from SuperRugby then a backline could run on to Loftus Versfeld on June 10 with less than 50 caps, which a coach, on as shaky ground as he is, is highly unlikely to gamble on. The form Super Rugby backline would probably be Bosch-Mvovo-Mapoe-Odendaal-Skosan-Jantjies-Cronje.

So it seems inevitable that Coetzee will call on overseas-based players, especially amongst the backs.

Jan Serfontein is on his way to France and only has 26 Springbok caps at the moment, so he will not be eligible for the Rugby Championship. Should Coetzee pick him anyway against France knowing that he won’t be part of the plans for the rest of the year?

Willie le Roux has been playing with typical enthusiasm for Wasps and is likely to be in the picture at fullback, but Coetzee will be curbing the development of Curwin Bosch by not selecting him against France and instead letting him play in another World Junior Championship for the SA U20s.

Bosch has been one of the standout players in SuperRugby and has come through the ranks having been tipped as a future Springbok star after his exploits with the SA U20s last year. He will surely be involved in the 2019 World Cup, and could quite possibly be needed during this year’s Rugby Championship, so why not get him involved now? Let him play at fullback where he will have more time to settle at senior international level.

Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar are all still playing well overseas, but the general feeling amongst rugby observers is that it is time we moved on from these superstars, particularly since none of them are likely to be around for the 2019 World Cup. Nevertheless, Coetzee is a desperate coach trying to avoid the axe, so don’t be surprised if he calls on some of these elder statesmen.

While there is probably more depth at forward, veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis is almost certain to be summoned to play the role of a general in the tight five, and playing the French at the end of their gruelling season with two of the Tests being played on the Highveld should produce open rugby and encourage Coetzee to pick players suited to a free-flowing game plan like Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Thomas du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

But the new 30-cap ruling on overseas players will also hurt Coetzee at forward. There is a hint of lawlessness in the way certain agents are shipping their players off overseas these days, so some tightening probably is necessary, but a hard-and-fast arbitrary number like 30 is not in the Springboks’ best interests.

Someone like Saracens tighthead prop Vincent Koch is playing unstoppable rugby at the moment, but he has only nine caps and is ineligible after July 1. If a couple of tightheads get injured during the Rugby Championship, how desperate will Coetzee be to select him? He may be forced to go back to Jannie du Plessis.

Ferocious flank Marcell Coetzee is in a similar position, stranded on 28 caps and currently out of action after another knee injury.

Instead of an inflexible rule, it should be left up to the national coach and Coetzee has already expressed his preference for locally-based players unless there is no viable option in a position, which is how it should be.

Hopefully the boring predictability of SuperRugby these days – those playing SuperBru will know this well – will give way to a thrilling Springbok resurgence next month, but there are numerous selection concerns for Allister Coetzee.

The rapid returns of Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh to their best would help, but the lack of in-form options at scrumhalf is also an obvious worry. But let’s hope that the natural flair, tremendous tenacity and game-breaking ability of Faf de Klerk is not ignored. Not blooding Curwin Bosch will be a bad enough waste of talent.

 

 

 

Can the Springboks use ProteaFire? 0

Posted on November 12, 2014 by Ken

The Springboks versus All Blacks rugby Test at Ellis Park last weekend counted as one of the greatest sports events I have been to and I felt immensely proud not just because our national rugby team won, but also because of the way they played and the way they carried themselves after the long-awaited triumph over their greatest rivals.

Even if one is not impressed by the way New Zealand and South Africa are steering rugby in a bright new direction of high-tempo play, the wonderful spirit shown between the two teams and the obviously high respect they hold each other in, must gladden the heart of all who love sport for the character-building effects it can have.

The wonderful gesture made by the All Blacks in Wellington when Richie McCaw handed over gifts to Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers for playing their 100th Tests will live long in the memory. The fact that nothing of that sort happened in Australia probably says more about the special relationship between the Springboks and All Blacks rather than any deficiencies on the Wallabies’ part.

But if the Springboks are going to win over even more hearts and minds – it is clear that still not everyone in South Africa believes they represent them – then perhaps they should take a leaf out of the book of their cricket counterparts who launched their ProteaFire campaign this week to some fanfare.

A huge part of the Proteas’ success in recent years has been due to the calibre of people in the team – the likes of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are all fantastic human beings – and the Springboks also have some fantastic leaders of men in their ranks, Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield, Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen springing readily to mind.

Rugby will be facing their own World Cup challenge next year, but they will also be tested off the field with sponsors cutting back and transformation issues still bedevilling them.

Whether ProteaFire will help the cricketers finally win their World Cup remains to be seen but what is certain is that most of the population will be firmly behind them.

ProteaFire emphasises the importance of putting the team ahead of the individual and the concept of Ubuntu is a key part of Graeme Smith’s vision that started in 2007. Cricket is often, because of its tradition of statistics, a very individual game and one would have thought rugby, perhaps the greatest of team sports, would have been quicker to implement this sort of mission statement of what playing for the national side really means.

For the cricketers, their diversity will be their strength and rugby probably isn’t quite there yet.

Another important aspect of ProteaFire is that it is almost a contract the national team have signed with their supporters in terms of what is expected of them, on and off the field. As Hashim Amla pointed out, this does not mean treating players like babies.

“On the field, emotions can run high and nobody’s perfect. It’s not about having 15 saints, everybody’s different and it’s about getting the strengths of all 15 players together and dealing with any fallouts,” Amla said.

One cannot help but come to the conclusion that the current turmoil wreaking havoc in English cricket is born out of their failure to deal properly with issues of team culture and identity.

Kevin Pietersen can be a brat, but there have been difficult cricketers before who have been allowed to enjoy the middle of the spotlight while still contributing to the team success.

Last Saturday night at Ellis Park and Thursday night in the SuperSport studios were two proud evenings because it showed South African sports teams are getting it right.



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