Cape Town - On the very same day that SA Rugby announced that they will host an indaba with all top-level coaches in the country, the Blue Bulls disregarded a request from the Springbok management.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee released five players to their provinces for Currie Cup duty this weekend as he felt that they would “benefit from additional game or training time”.
Of the five, the “training time” only really applied to Sharks wing Lwazi Mvovo, as his team have a bye this weekend.
But Trevor Nyakane and Rudy Paige of the Bulls, Golden Lions hooker Malcolm Marx and Western Province No 2 Bongi Mbonambi should all be involved in their unions’ respective games.
While the Lions and WP will only name their match-22s on Thursday, Bulls coach Nollis Marais announced his team on Wednesday and left Nyakane and Paige on the sidelines.
He cited the late arrival of the prop and scrumhalf on Tuesday at the Bulls as the main reason for the players’ omission ahead of Friday afternoon’s clash against Boland in Wellington, saying that he had spoken to Coetzee about the matter.
“I don’t think a change in the side will be the correct thing now. Trevor hasn’t trained with us in a long time and didn’t play the last bit of Super Rugby, so I don’t think it is the right thing to change the team now. I spoke to both the players and they understand. They only joined us for half a session this morning and I don’t think it is fair on the guys who have been training with us all along,” Marais said on Tuesday.
What about the national interest? How can the Springbok coach be blatantly ignored by a provincial coach? Both Nyakane and Paige desperately need game time. Nyakane came on as a tighthead substitute for the Boks in the Brisbane Test against the Wallabies, but was left out in Christchurch against the All Blacks, with Vincent Koch was brought back into the starting line-up and Lourens Adriaanse moved down to the bench.
Coetzee said earlier this year that he is trying to turn Nyakane into a “swinger prop” that can fill in at loosehead and tighthead at international level, even though he is primarily a loosehead. So surely he must be granted every opportunity to play at tighthead at provincial level?
The same applies to Paige, who is the next Bok scrumhalf in line after Faf de Klerk and Francois Hougaard at the moment. It is such a specialist position, like tighthead, and the fact that Paige didn’t play in either Test Down Under makes it every more imperative that he plays for the Bulls this weekend.
And yes, he was often behind Piet van Zyl for the Bulls during Super Rugby, but if the Bok coach is asking a province to provide game time to someone in the national squad, there shouldn’t be any quibbles about it from the provincial coach. It must just be done for the sake of the Springboks.
The Bulls are involved in a tight scrap for a place in the Currie Cup semi-finals. They are currently third on the log on 25 points, level with the second-placed Sharks, who have a better points difference of +30. Both teams have played seven games, so this weekend’s clash will be the Bulls’ final league match, with the Sharks playing their eighth next weekend against the Lions at Ellis Park.
So Marais is understandably anxious about ensuring that the Bulls get five log points. But they are facing the seventh-placed Boland, who have only beaten the teams below them – the Pumas and EP Kings – this season. Boland are also injury-ravaged at the moment, and won’t be putting up much of a fight anyway in Wellington on Friday.
Surely space could’ve been found for Nyakane and Paige, even on the bench? Instead, Lizo Gqoboka and Jacobie Adriaanse are the starting props, with Martin Dreyer the back-up, while Van Zyl will wear the No 9 jersey, with André Warner the reserve halfback.
Nyakane and Paige being left out is simply unacceptable, and it is exactly what is wrong with South African rugby at the moment. Provincial interests are being put ahead of the Springboks’ needs, and it is hoped that such problems can be ironed out at the national coaches’ indaba on October 19-21 in Cape Town.
Imagine if All Black coach Steve Hansen released some players from the squad to play for their provinces? Would the local coaches ignore his request? We have seen many times over the years where some All Black players would turn out for their provinces or even clubs when the national team is not playing in order to stay sharp or get extra game time if required.
In fact, that is exactly what happened on Wednesday, with loose forward Elliot Dixon turning out for Southland and he scored a try to help his team beat Bay of Plenty 20-16 in Invercargill.
A similar scenario happened a few weeks ago ahead of the All Blacks’ Test against Australia in Sydney, where lock Luke Romano played for Canterbury against Auckland after missing out on the travelling party. Dixon was asked to rest that week due to a busy workload up to that point.
The New Zealand Rugby Union do have a central contracting model that gives them a greater say over their players, but no matter what, the All Blacks always comes first. Let’s hope that the indaba results in the Springboks being the main priority in South African rugby in future.