PRETORIA – Former Springbok prop Cobus Visagie brought back some sanity to the raging debates on who Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus should select for his squad ahead of the June Incoming Series against England.
Visagie’s message was simple - don’t be fooled by the heroics of the likes of Faf de Klerk and Willie Le Roux playing in the English premiership. And Visagie would know, having played in England for a long time and in over 100 matches for Saracens.
It’s so easy for many rugby pundits and fans to scream out the names of their favourite players and make unsubstantiated arguments on why a lot of the overseas based players should make a return to the Springbok team over the players that ply their trade in the tough Super Rugby on a weekly basis.
However, many of these pundits, a lot of them supporters and not reporters, struggle to differentiate between fiction and fantasy and are seemingly caught up in the notion of believing if something is true then it will become the truth.
The truth of the matter is that Erasmus, like many of his predecessors, is sitting with the best of the players available to him right here at home and should rightly give preference to those players that have sought to play their rugby in South Africa.
There is a case for some foreign based players to be part of the Springboks in the coming weeks, especially for that meaningless Test against Wales in Washington, but the backbone of Erasmus’ squad to face England should be players that we see playing Super Rugby every weekend.
While Erasmus has been handed carte blanche to pick his players from anywhere in the world, he must also be careful not to believe the hype that all players who go overseas are the best.
In fact, I believe that there are enough player resources in South Africa for Erasmus to pick a formidable squad that can win the series while also breeding and swelling the stocks for the future.
Almost every overseas player that has been touted as a certainty for the Springboks, is almost in the twilight of their career and many of them are living on reputation and not on being the best in their respective competitions.
A guy like Bismarck du Plessis was undoubtedly amongst the best hookers in world rugby during his prime but his name no longer evokes fear in the changeroom of the opposition team. And, just like the German battleship that he was named after, anecdotes of his greatness are just echoes from the bottom of the rugby ocean.
It is the same with calls for former Bok captain Adriaan Strauss to come out of retirement to help alleviate the “crisis” at hooker brought about by the injury to Malcolm Marx, it is not going to help the Springboks and will instead take our rugby backwards.
With the greatest respect to Strauss as a player and a person, but his time with the Boks is up and there have been some good performances from Chiliboy Ralepelle, Akker van der Merwe and Ramone Samuels for Erasmus to have quality cover at hooker.
We can throw out names of those earning the big bucks abroad with every position where the Springboks could be lacking but I can guarantee you that it won’t bring about the desired solution.
Erasmus must not be deterred from the task at hand by emotional cries for players who left the country when they weren’t even the best in their positions and instead must look to the players who have already worn the Green and Gold jersey before and have put up their hands in the toughest competition in world rugby.
Erasmus must also be wary of the cheers for those who have put in a handful of decent performance but are now spoken of in the same breath as Springboks.
We’ve seen enough ordinary players being made Springboks and players being handed Bok caps because people love them.
The time has come for some credibility to return to the Springbok jersey and this will be the first and probably most important task that Erasmus will have to fulfill in his first season as the man holding the poisoned chalice.