Since reading most opinions on news websites and the mainstream media I cannot get that irritating tune of Kenny Rogers called The Gambler out of my head.
It’s nothing new. Ask 100 people to select his Springbok team for any given test and you will get 100 different teams.
Some of these teams will be well motivated on the perceptions or observation of the ‘selector’ but for most part if you look at blogs specifically, you will find an obvious tendency for these ‘selectors’ to favour players from the team they support.
The current tour to the UK is important for many reasons.
After a disastrous Tri-Nations the Springbok management, coaching staff and players are looking to restore some faith and pride in the jersey and the general public. This tour also provides the opportunity for this magnificent group of players to add yet another accolade to their impressive CV by winning a Grand Slam for the 5th time only in history, and the first since 1960/61.
Then of course there is also the small matter of the Rugby World Cup next year, and finalising the squad of 30 players that will go to New Zealand to hopefully become the first team in history to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup, and given the spate of injuries to first choice and some regular fringe players, an opportunity to discover the next Bryan Habana (debutant on the UK tour in 2004) or Francoise Steyn (debutant on 2006 European tour).
Depending what you value most from the above, your motivation for wanting to select, or ‘rest’ (nice way of saying drop) some players will also play a part.
One thing I believe most people are forgetting, is looking at the most important aspect of introducing players to the highest level of rugby, the players themself.
I have discussed and written about the success, or lack of it, of some teams with regards to building squads and depth quite often in the past. I have also continually used one team as an example of how to do things, or how I believe it should be done and given their success, and most importantly sustained success over the last 5 years or so, I don’t think I am far off.
Four individuals currently on tour have been the flavour of South African rugby in recent months. They are Elton Jantjies, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo and Willem Alberts.
All of them have had magnificent seasons for their respective provinces not only in the Currie Cup, but also in the Super 14. They are (rightly) identified as the future of South African rugby, and potential Springbok legends.
But herein lies the problem.
If I make the statement that it is my belief that South Africa probably has the worst record of identifying and more importantly, managing players, I do not think many will disagree with me.
I can also name a host of players, who at the time they rose to fame domestically, were praised as the future of SA and Springbok rugby, but today find themselves either in the rugby wilderness, or playing for some club in Europe.
There are some statements Jake White has made in his career as coach and now rugby expert that I do not agree with, but one comment he has made I could not agree with more. He mentioned that when a coach, especially at test (or Super 14 level even in my view) level decides to cap, or introduce a player to that level of rugby, he must be as assured as he possibly could be, that the player will in 2 or 3 years time, run out for his 50th cap at that level.
An 80 minute game of rugby can, and has, defined players, and players futures. Thus the importance for a coach to introduce a player to a certain level of rugby is not only dependent on whether that player has the ability or skills necessary to compete at that level, but more importantly that it’s done at the right time, and in the right environment to ensure the transition for the player is optimized, and with the view of making a positive impact on that player’s career not only for that match, but where he will be in 4 or 5 years from today.
I read with interest recently how Chiliboy Ralepelle’s career started and developed. Not really that you can call it development as it regressed more than anything else, but the one thing that stood out was Heyneke Meyer’s insistence at the time when Chili was introduced to test or Springbok rugby, that it was too early for a player many believed will be the future Springbok captain. Now forget the doping scandal, Chili’s career has basically been destroyed thanks to the poor management of this very talented individual’s career. And it’s not just Chili, think of guys like Gaffie du Toit, Brent Russell, Brad Barritt, Shaun Sowerby and many, many more.
Now come back to today, and the seeming insistence that Elton Jantjies, Pat Lambie, Mvovo and Alberts simply has to be given a starting position in the Springbok team.
Are they good enough? Hell I cannot personally think of anyone else in the SA Rugby circuit at the moment that are better than these guys at the moment.
Do they deserve it? Of course they do, there is no question.
Must it happen right now? Absolutely not.
Before Habana’s injury which forced young Lwazi into the starting XV these individuals (with the exception of Jantjies who is yet to earn a cap) role they occupied coming in mainly off the bench was exactly the right way to go about things.
I mentioned before how I always refer to a certain team when raising an argument for a roadmap, or framework to ensure sustained success, and successful development of players. This team is of course the Bulls.
You will almost exclusively find that the Bulls use a specific formula when they identify, blood and introduce players to top-flight rugby. Firstly, they select players that can play the game strategies they employ, and the guy coming in or being introduced into the setup, plays very similar to the guy they replace in the team. Secondly, and more importantly in my personal view, you almost never find a player introduced into the team, or combination within a team, that is not experienced or where he is not surrounded by experienced players.
It is the framework and philosophy that has seen the Bulls dominate domestic, and Super 14 rugby in recent years, with, or without their superstar players or Springboks. And it is a recipe that should be followed even at test level.
How people want to introduce Alberts on the openside of the scrum in a position he has never played in professionally if memory serves, into a combination that has never played together, is beyond me. Quite simply, for Alberts to get a start, he either needs to replace Juan Smith on the side of the scrum, or be selected ahead of Kankowski or Spies at the back, and given how Kankowski has played for the Sharks in recent weeks and the fact that he is the (un)official back-up to Pierre Spies, I find it absolutely absurd that people are suggesting he has to be forced onto the openside.
Pat Lambie has had a magical year. He shot to prominence in the Super 14 when he ran out at fullback for the Sharks and became a star in the Currie Cup when he was moved to flyhalf. To insist Lambie has to start at flyhalf, at the expense of our only place kicker who averages over 80% at test level and join up forces in a half-back combination with a player (Hougaard) that has only started less than a handful of tests in the position, is equally absurd.
This weekend we will field a back-three against Scotland who will boast a collective 20 test caps between them in Kirchner (made his debut in 2009), Aplon (made his debut in 2010) and Mvovo (who will earn his first test cap).
The withdrawal of Habana has forced this move now, and it is the best one we can possibly field at the moment from players on tour, but should Habana have been fit there is simply no doubt in my mind he should have started as was originally the plan. If anything, De Villiers could have risked keeping Aplon at 15 in place of Kirchner with Habana and Mvovo on the wings but the point I am trying to make is rather obvious I believe.
I know the general sentiment, it is only Scotland hey? Well I am don’t know about any of you guys out there, but I have seen too many close games between the Boks and Scotland, or Ireland (whom the Scots have beaten a couple of months ago at Croke Park), or Argentina (whom the Scots have beaten in a recent test series in Argentina), or even France (whom the Scots gave a massive go in the recent 6 Nations) to believe it is going to be a walk-over. The Scots came in cold against the All Blacks, similar to how Ireland came into the first test against the Boks, but they are too good to make the same mistakes twice.
I would love to see Jantjies, Lambie, Mvovo and Alberts become test legends as much as the next guy, because they are that damn good, but for once, I actually want to see this be done successfully, and not see careers pissed away because of bad management.