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Ken Borland

Sport will humble you when hubris takes root

Posted on October 06, 2022 by Ken

The wonderful thing about sport is that it will constantly surprise you, with tales of the underdog triumphing being one of its most inspirational features. But it will also humble you, especially when hubris is allowed to take root.

Cricketers will talk about Mother Cricket and making sure no-one gets big-headed; rugby players will constantly talk up the opposition to ensure they will not be complacent on match day.

But every now and then, someone will get it horribly wrong and sporting misfortune will come back to bite them, often hard.

The Springboks, having played so brilliantly to beat the All Blacks in Nelspruit, came a cropper the following weekend at Ellis Park. They did not seem over-confident in the week leading up to the clash and said all the right things about an expected New Zealand rebound.

But there were certain selections which have led to them being accused of hubris and Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber needed to do better when asked questions about these controversial picks after the game.

No-one who was in the cauldron of Ellis Park last weekend will doubt the passion of Springbok supporters. And they don’t like having the wool pulled over their eyes or being told the reasons for a player being selected are “privileged” or a secret.

And yet this is what Nienaber did when the media wanted to know his justification for starting Joseph Dweba at hooker ahead of the rampant Malcolm Marx, and an underdone Duane Vermeulen at eighthman.

Both selections smacked of arrogance – fielding anything less than your best team against the All Blacks, and a desperate one at that, is bound to result in embarrassment.

When considering the worths of Dweba and Marx, the latter is clearly the better hooker at the moment and one of the best, most dangerous forwards in world rugby.

But given the injury to Bongi Mbonambi, Nienaber almost had to play Dweba and then the discussion could change to how does one get the best out of both players? If the inexperienced Dweba has to play, when will he be most effective?

There’s no doubt that a fresh Marx coming off the bench is a massive weapon for the Springboks, so one can understand the attraction of going that route.

But there’s also no doubt All Blacks coach Ian Foster, craggy-faced during the week but etched with relief after the game, was smiling inside when he heard their nemesis of Mbombela would not be tormenting them for the full 80 minutes.

Nienaber has already put himself among the elect group of coaches who have beaten the British and Irish Lions, but the hallmark of great coaches is their ability to keep the public on their side whether winning or losing, while also grooming the confidence and belief of their players.

Nienaber needs to embrace the fact that the fans are his constituents and the media are his conduit to them. Nobody is suggesting the fans should have a say in selections, but they do deserve to have them better explained than just being told “it’s privileged”.

There was another example of hubris in the last week that made me chuckle.

England Lions captain Sam Billings had some strong things to say after his team had played the Proteas off the park in an innings win in Canterbury, albeit in a warm-up match in which South Africa only fielded two first-choice bowlers. He implied Proteas captain Dean Elgar was stupid for ignoring how wonderful ‘Bazball’ is and said it should have been a massive wake-up call for the tourists.

But as the Springboks discovered, things seldom stay the same for long in the world of sport, and now it’s England who are under the pump at Lord’s.

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    Mark 7:8 – “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

    Our foundation must be absolute surrender, devotion and obedience to God, rising from pure love for him. Jesus Christ must be central in all things and his will must take precedence over the will of people, regardless of how well-meaning they may be.

    Surrender yourself unconditionally to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then you will be able to identify what is of man with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Then you will be able to serve – in love! – according to God’s will.

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