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Will Whiteley be allowed to be a real Bok captain?

Opinion
It feels like there should have been an old chimney from which, after a long wait, white smoke was seen to appear.

Instead of an announcement on SuperSport, wouldn’t it have been more fitting for a senior church person, perhaps the Cardinal Protodeacon himself, to make the announcement in Latin, for maximum effect?

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: HABEMUS JUGUM! (Or should that be HABEMUS LOREM IPSUM DOLOR)?

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John Robbie. Photo: Cara Viereckl

I forget the Latin for “team” but it is something like one of those. 

The wait for the latest Springbok squad has felt like the wait for a new Pope, only more important for rugby fans. After the annus horribilis of last year, we all need hope and reassurance that things will improve this year.

Poor old Allister Coetzee cut a lonely figure last season as he tried to reassure us that there was still a plan, when clearly there wasn’t, after it fell apart. Insult was added to injury with the fairytale proffered and maintained about skipper Adriaan Strauss and the off-season came not a moment too soon.

Since then we have had a series of squad get-togethers, very mixed Super Rugby performances, and much speculation. Now, at long last, we have a new skipper and a new squad.

All we need is evidence on the park, during the French Tests, and nowhere else, that the Boks are back on track to being competitive against the very best.

Better late than never with the skipper. Last year reminded me of the rebel cricket tour, I forget which one, when Peter Kirsten was made skipper ahead of Clive Rice.

Kirsten was a world-class player but everyone, except the selectors, could see that Rice had the great gift of leadership. Warren Whiteley is the same. He goes about his business regarding his own game and is rarely far off man of the match. However, he also has that rare ability to lead and to motivate others to play above their weight.

He, obviously, relishes that responsibility. Look at the Lions – week in and out we have seen top performances out of the modern rugby playbook that have matched, even, the Kiwi teams.

If we had not risked defeat in Argentina, I believe the Lions would have beaten the Hurricanes in a home final last season. That is Whiteley’s team.

The question is, does this also apply to the Springboks? To what extent will Whiteley influence strategy and tactics? Will he be allowed to lead or just to toss the coin and make the speeches? That depends on Allister.

Rugby coaches are a varied and funny lot. Some see themselves as puppet masters who pull all the strings. They select players to stick to a rigid plan and, if they stray from it, they are dropped.

Others see themselves as mentors who are there, almost, as a resource to be used by the team. They facilitate and communicate, and allow the group to realise its own potential. They are democratic, to a point, after which the players take ownership.

Warren Whiteley has been an inspirational figure for the Lions. Will it be the same at the Springboks? Photo: Lukas Coch, BackpagePix


The latter type of coach depends, hugely, on his skipper and senior players. I hope Allister is of the latter persuasion, but his time under Jake White, who did it his way, concerns me.

There is plenty of talent, size and speed, back and upfront, in the squad. I cannot believe Lionel Mapoe is not in, but there you go. An effective defensive pattern must be arrived at and bought into.

Durban and the All Blacks last year must never be allowed to happen again. All the basic set-pieces must be organised and formats for attack and counter-attack agreed upon.

Obviously speed is the key as this is what the Lions, and the All Blacks, do so well. It was John Mitchell, the former All Black and Lions coach, who put it so well. He maintains that the single most important factor that sets top sides apart is their ability to turn chaos into order.

Think about it. In attack, you want to cause chaos in the other side. From that you run in tries in an orderly way. In defence, when there is chaos, your players are conditioned to make decisions that restore order until the danger passes. I get it. That is what the Lions have been doing.

Good luck to the Boks. It will be interesting comparing our series with the All Blacks versus the British and Irish Lions. We now have a proven captain to lead us out of the wilderness – if he is given enough say. If not, we might require a miracle.

Saturday Star

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