JJ Harmse

Vodacom Cup the perfect tool

2008-01-17 08:52

JJ Harmse

With emotions following the appointment of Peter de Villiers having barely subsided, the next phase could create even more controversy.

De Villiers needs assistance - as all national coaches do - and the posts for a forwards coach, backline coach and defence coach, among others, are due to be advertised in the next couple of weeks.

The panel who interviewed the new coach and the other candidates on the four-man shortlist will be involved again, although in a smaller capacity, and it will be interesting to see what principles (if any) will guide them this time.

Will transformation be an issue or will De Villiers get who he wants?

SA Rugby has this rainbow policy of one white, one coloured and one black when it comes to the management team and if they expect De Villiers to apply this to his coaching staff, the coach will have to juggle well to get the balance right.

Hype

I am not going to discuss possible candidates. De Villiers will have more than enough time to make a call on who he wants and hopefully gets.

The hype surrounding the appointment of the Springbok coach often takes away from the reality that there are only around 40-45 players in the country who will be in De Villiers's plans for 2008.

For the remainder of the players, the chances of being coached by De Villiers are very, very remote to say the least.

Yet their dreams and aspirations are the same - they all want to become Boks one day.

Luckily for them, they will have ample opportunities to become better players with club competitions and the Vodacom Cup starting in around three weeks.

Development project

With regards to the Vodacom Cup, I believe De Villiers should claim it as his development project. It is no secret that there will be more pressure on the Paarl man than any national coach in the past to pick players of colour, especially in four years time when the Rugby World Cup visits New Zealand.

The Vodacom Cup will provide him with the perfect tool for that.

Most, if not all, of the first squad the new coach will assemble at the end of May will contain the best players during the Super 14 and incumbents in their positions.

It remains unfair to expect any Super 14 coach to sacrifice his team or his future in order to please the national coach. Yes, there will be isolated incidents where a Super 14 coach could be of great value to the national coach, but that lies more in the management of players than playing him in a specific position.

Appeal and purpose

However, there is no reason why De Villiers should not be able to 'order' the Vodacom Cup coaches around in order to serve the national team.

The Vodacom Cup, rather unfortunately, has lost much of its original development appeal and purpose, but De Villiers can change that.

It has become almost a Under-23 competition in practice, ironically ideal for the national coach.

Remember that he coached most of the current crop at Under-19 and Under-21 level. He can now use the Vodacom Cup to further their progress.

By making sure all his young contenders get regular game time in the Vodacom Cup, De Villiers can nurture them into real Super 14 and eventually Springbok contenders.

Game time

Let us say young Jody Rose at the Lions is not getting playing time at Vodacom Cup level because Louis Strydom is wearing the number 10 jersey.

De Villiers should then be able to 'place' Rose at Griquas for example, in order to make sure he gets time on the field and develops.

Hopefully, in 2009, Rose would then be able to hold his spot in the Vodacom Cup and maybe push for Super 14 time and in 2010 become a regular starter. He will then have 2010 and 2011 to push for a World Cup place in New Zealand. Rose is but one example.

As I have said, the Vodacom Cup has lost a lot of sparkle and is in serious need of a purpose injection. In reality, the competition will also be challenged by two club competitions.

Huge exposure

The Varsity Cup, the brainchild of Francois Pienaar and former provincial prop Duitser Bosman, will challenge the Vodacom Cup as a secondary competition to the Super 14, while the Gilbert Top 20 series is becoming bigger and bigger as well.

The Varsity Cup will be an Under-25 round-robin competition among the top eight rugby-playing universities and many of their matches will be televised. This will create huge exposure and an exciting brand of rugby, something the Vodacom Cup has not delivered in the last couple of years.

The Gilbert competition is played among the top clubs in the northern regions of the country and draws bigger crowds than the Vodacom Cup does on a normal Saturday. It also involves the second and third XVs of clubs, so it becomes a big rugby day at the particular host club.

Attendances at Vodacom Cup games have been embarrassing at times, but maybe De Villiers can do something about it. Let's hope he reads this article!

  • Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

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