JOHANNESBURG – With the Springboks and the SA ‘A’ side playing in the same city on the same weekend; it is easy to forget about the fringe players and to view that game more as a sideshow, but it is so much more than that.
When the SA ‘A’ side was in Durban, and put up in front of the media, there was more focus pointed at the Moses Mabhida Stadium that the game would be taking place in. The game itself seemed superfluous, and the result even more so. But the value of such a game should not be underestimated.
Speaking to the SA ‘A’ coach Johan Ackermann, it is clear that the man who turned around the fortunes of a Lions team full of ‘no-hopers’ around, also sees the value of giving fringe players the reward of playing with a Springbok emblem on their chest.
People often forget that raw talent at club level does not translate directly into outstanding performances at Test level, despite the calls for making every man-of-the match a Springbok through Super Rugby.
Ackermann spoke often how the experience of firstly being rewarded with a national call up of sorts, and the time spent in a camp with some of the brightest prospects, benefits a player like Kings wing Makazole Mapimpi.
Born in Mdantsane, Mapimpi has never had to enter a camp full of new faces, full of former Springboks, and future Boks, but with the SA ‘A’ side he has taken a baby step to feeling what it is like to be in such a position.
Indeed, the SA ‘A’ side is a dress rehearsal for the Springboks in every sense of the word, and plays an important role for the Springbok coach.
Those players are waiting in the wings, ready to take the call up should it come. They are gaining experience being in a national representative side, but without the Test match pressure of having to win at all costs.
Mapimpi, and others who have never played outside the comforts of their club teams, are able to express themselves in the safety net of an exhibition match, while still learning the nitty gritty that comes with playing at the representative level.
Of course, it also puts them under the scrutiny of Allister Coetzee, while reminding them that they are not far off from making it to the big time.
The SA ‘A’ side has never really been taken seriously by SA Rugby, nor the fans, in years gone by.
But with the Boks in a rebuilding stage, with experienced doyens lacking in the system, having a baby step from Super Rugby to Bok big time can only be a good thing for acclimatizing our future stars.