JOHANNESBURG - Pick the best players, irrespective of where they ply their trade and get the coaching team sorted out. These are the two biggest issues hampering the growth and development, and sustained success, of the Springboks.
Allister Coetzee’s team have taken a few steps forward this year, when compared to the disaster of last year, but also only because they have won a few more games. But they have also lost badly this year and if we have to be honest with ourselves and ask whether the Boks have actually made any progress this year, the answer would be NO!
With two Tests to go this season, we can ask, where and how have the Boks progressed, grown and developed? In what areas have they improved? And what have the newcomers to the coaching team in 2017 - Brendan Venter and Franco Smith - really achieved? Are we really that much better off defensively and on attack with them in the set-up, rather than Mzwandile Stick, the only man who was axed for the poor showing in 2016?
And now, Johan van Graan is gone - off to Munster - halfway through a tour and Venter isn’t available for the rest of the tour, because he’s also employed as a consultant by Italy, who the Boks face this weekend. Is this the kind of coaching set-up the Boks need to become the best in the world?
Also, Rassie Erasmus is returning - from Munster - to be SA Rugby’s director of rugby, along with defence guru Jacques Nienaber (why they come as a package, I don’t know). But, will they actually be involved in coaching the Boks or will they work behind the scenes... what will their roles be?
Do the Boks even need more coaches, or consultants, or directors of rugby? Perhaps the biggest problem at the Boks is that there are simply too many coaches, too many voices, and the players just don’t know who to listen to and follow; one week Coetzee’s calling the shots, the next it’s Smith and Venter, and before long it will be Erasmus and Nienaber.
Is this good for the Boks; are there not too many chiefs trying to coach the team? After all, the best team on the planet, the All Blacks, don’t have a director of rugby. And I’m convinced the head coach Steve Hansen calls the shots and the buck stops with him. They seem to be alright.
Then there’s the issue of the players and specifically the ones based abroad; should they be considered for the Boks, or not? I’ve been torn over this issue for years and still am, but there is a part of me that feels South African rugby is shooting itself in the foot by not picking whoever is available for the Boks, no matter where those players are based. This is, after all, a professional sport and players should be allowed to play wherever they want.
Those who want to play Super Rugby (and even Currie Cup) will stay behind, but those who want to play in France or England, let them be. But let the Bok team be made up of the best players. The 30-Test rule (to play overseas and be eligible for selection) is not likely to benefit the Boks in future, while the unofficial policy to try and not select overseas-based players is also counter-productive.
Imagine how strong a Bok squad would be if whoever was coach could include the best players based in Europe in his squad; there would be wonderful competition from within, there would be experience to pass on to the youngsters and, overall, the Boks would be stronger and better off.
We’re in a professional era and the Boks need an intervention if they’re to be taken seriously in future. SA has got quality players aplenty, and excellent coaches, too, but certain policies and decisions are halting the growth and development and let’s please get the coaching team sorted out. SA rugby bosses must let whoever is the head coach to be the chief in charge... it’s really very simple.