The one positive thing the furore over the Springboks being forced to play the last round of the Currie Cup has done is provide a departure from the standard boring PR style press conference where players and coaches say everything you expect them to say.
At least that was the case for the Cape-based media, with Wednesday’s team announcement press conference providing what looked like a division of opinion among members of the Fourth Estate.
On one side sat a group who, judging from their line of questioning, were only too pleased to have the Springboks back and hang the long-term consequences.
On the other side of the room sat a group who were clearly disturbed by the big and relevant issue of the moment, which was that playing the top players into the ground cannot possibly serve either the national or the Super Rugby franchise interests.
You can’t blame Allister Coetzee for choosing his Boks.
If he didn’t and his team got relegated there would surely be a lynch-mob set upon him by ignorant and reactive media and administrators who have failed to realise that the Currie Cup is now a relic of a bygone age.
But it did boggle the mind a bit that he could select Jean de Villiers when the Bok captain was a hobbling spectator at training.
If there is any player who needs to be rested it is De Villiers, who has played almost non-stop, and for the full 80 minutes, in every game that the Stormers and the Boks have played since he was forced out for a few weeks with an injury sustained on the Super Rugby Australasian tour way back in April.
The Boks play their next Test four weeks from today in Dublin, after which there are three more successive weeks of hard Test rugby.
So if Coetzee was serious when he said at a previous press conference that players needed to be managed, this was his opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.
That he didn’t can be explained by what I said above about the lynch-mob and full marks to Coetzee for not avoiding the question when it was asked – yes, he said, it was the threat of having to play a relegation game that prompted him to select all the Boks, and had there not been relegation, he might have selected the team differently.
Indeed, when pressed, he even hinted that he might rest some of the Boks if his team does get through to next week’s semi-final.
If Coetzee never said it, the role the spectre of promotion-relegation played in prompting the coaches to rush their Boks into Currie Cup action was illustrated by the team selections for this week.
The Sharks and Lions don’t have the threat of relegation hanging over them, and they both opted to go easy on their Boks rather than select them into their starting teams.
But the coaches should never have been required to make the choice.
And this is where De Villiers was so refreshing with his responses when some media people appeared to be trying to press him into issuing the standard quote about how great it was to pull the blue and white hoops over his shoulders and that yes, the Currie Cup is still a big competition for the players and rah, rah, rah, rah…
If he did say anything remotely representing those sentiments it was only under duress, for the central message was that he and the players should not be expressing an opinion because it is not up to them and they don’t play any part in the decision-making of the administrators.
De Villiers definitely wasn’t doing cartwheels of delight at the prospect of more rugby, and later he said when interviewed separately that change was needed if the players’ interests, and that of the stakeholders, was to be safeguarded.
That brings us to the people that a former Springbok coach once said were guilty of self-perpetuating incompetence – namely the elected officials who cannot bring themselves to change a system that so clearly needs changing because it undermines the power of their provinces and thus doesn’t serve their interests.
In the same way that turkeys can’t be expected to vote for Christmas, the people who make the decisions can’t be expected to vote for an end to their privilege.
But something needs to give so that South African rugby can be brought in line with the highly admired New Zealand system, where it is not the provinces but the central union that plays the role of piper, and the top 30 All Blacks, and top 150 Super Rugby players, are managed in such a way that it serves the national interest.
We do hear that a change is being considered, but I have been hearing that for the last 15 years, and nothing is ever done about it.
The time for replacing talk with action is long overdue. But I am not holding my breath. – Weekend Argus