Paris – In George Orwell’s classic satire on communism, Animal Farm, the pig that unilaterally took it upon himself to lead the other animals after the humans had been disposed of cuttingly said: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
There are many who feel that some Springboks are “more equal” than others given that they can take the Japanese yen, the euro and the pound, yet still be picked for the national team. And then there is the case of the most equal of them all, Fourie du Preez, who is not only based overseas but gives the impression that he can choose which games he is going to play for the Springboks.
The knee-jerk reaction is that this is patently an unhealthy situation in a team sport, but it is more complex than it appears. There was much indignation when a Saru statement came out on Sunday night advising that Du Preez was not going to be playing against France because, variously, his wife recently had a baby, his back was sore and his Japanese club wanted him back.
Well, his club have no right to ask him to return because this week’s Test falls within the IRB’s international window and countries have first call on players in this period.
One thing that cannot be argued is that his absence will hurt the Boks’ chances of winning in Paris for the first time since 1997. Du Preez is that good and there is a clear gulf between him and the rest of the South African scrumhalf pack.
Will his departure anger his teammates? If so, Heyneke Meyer would not have allowed it, and therein lies the rub. The coach is big on team culture and is a man of proven integrity. He is big on transparency within the squad, and will never stand accused of hiding agendas from his players.
The Bulls players and now the Springboks he has coached for the past two years will testify that they have always known where they stand with Meyer, and if Du Preez was always going to be going home in week three of the tour, it would have been timeously explained to the rest of the squad.
It is a unique situation that the Springboks are in. No other leading rugby country picks foreign-based players, and there are many South African critics who feel that it sends the wrong message to aspiring Springbok players – why stick it out in South Africa when you can go earn more money overseas and still have the backdoor open to the Springboks?
Jake White is one such critic and he has warned that South African rugby is making “a rod for its own back”, in that domestic teams will be weakened as increasing numbers of leading players base themselves overseas. The argument has merit, but how many Springbok supporters will be whingeing in 2015 if South Africa win the World Cup? And two years out it is a growing possibility.
The Boks are No 2 in the world, with an emerging gap between them and the rest of the top five, and given Meyer’s burning ambition and eyebrow-raising work ethic, the Boks will continue to close in on the All Blacks.
A methodical planner, conscientious and diligent almost to a fault, Meyer leaves nothing to chance. In the case of Du Preez, you have to accept that Meyer knows what he is doing. He knows that the Boks have a significantly better shout of winning in England in 2015 with Du Preez as his general. Meyer coached Du Preez at the Bulls for a decade. He knows the highly strung individual and how to manage him. And he knows how to keep harmony in a team.
It is perhaps no coincidence that under Meyer there are few big egos or prima donnas in this Bok squad, so there is little chance of a rift because of the special treatment that Du Preez is receiving.