A problem coach by any other name

2012-06-07 08:38

South Africans have always had an ambivalent relationship with their national rugby coaches, at least since 1995.

It is because we are emotionally invested with the Springboks; after all they have produced two World Cup wins and did more for uniting a fractured nation than both Codesa and the first democratic national elections, at least according to Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.

Maybe it is because our national soccer team has sent us into a spiral of contemptuous, circular argumentation, persistently disappointing us.

Our discourse in relation to soccer is dominated by calls for the coach to be axed, players’ attitudes to be adjusted thus leaving us with no hope for any future significant victories.

Following the Spear controversy, a new bone of contention has entered the national discourse, our newly appointed national coach’s choice for the series of three tests against England.

The furore was initiated by the fact that he wished to recall Victor Matfield – arguably the greatest lock ever, but somewhat of a senior citizen these days – out of retirement to lead the Bokke as captain.

Fourie du Preez, missing in action since before last year’s World Cup, was then being touted as his next choice as skipper to steer 15 men to victory.

The attempt to recycle both these legendary golden oldies came to a screeching halt as technicalities disqualified Matfield and Du Preez, recognising his own frailty, declined and chose to continue his competitive career in serene Japan.

The last straw in this early, yet tumultuous, relationship with Meyer was the announcement of his 32-man Springbok squad to face England.

It comes as no surprise, as a former Bull’s coach that, 13 of his players were chosen from among their ranks, followed by 11 Sharks and 3 Stormers.

Old club loyalties and biased supporter syndrome aside, a year or two ago he may have been able to justify his selection, but we, the fans who have access to DStv-screened games know that he has missed a number of players that deserve to wear the green and gold jersey.

Gio Aplon has left the world with gaping maws as his slight 79kg frame tackles, rucks and crashes through bodies twice that of his own.

His usual partner in crime, one Juan de Jongh, finds gaps in an impenetrable brick walls of defence.

Siya Kolisi, a Neanderthal-looking 20-year-old wunderkind, who has been a worthy replacement for that mop of blonde aggression, Schalk Burger, plays an effective, first-on-the-scene, defensive and effective loose-forward game.

What do these men have in common but for the fact that they all play for the same Super Rugby franchise, are all merited “transformation” players and have the nation’s support for donning the green and gold, springbok and protea insignia jersey?

They have all been snubbed by Meyer.

One could always argue that their franchise’s unattractive, defensive game plan has given the coach cause to seek talent from another pool of players, but rugby extends to beyond a coach’s paper game plan.

The men that sweat and bleed for 80 minutes on the field make all the difference and the Stormers are definitely not short of talent in this department.

It is Meyer’s prerogative as coach, to take these players with their usually boring approach to rugby and turn them into match winning, offensive, high scoring machines at national level.

Despite that, there is no justification for why a national coach has only chosen three players from a team that has played 13 games and accumulated 54 points in the process to dominate the top of the national conference log, in the Super Rugby competition.

Instead, his second largest pool of players is drawn from a team that has had nought more than a lacklustre performance throughout the tournament.

The Sharks, despite a competent coach and immense talent – their front row, is the national first choice as a front row – have barely exceeded the Cheetah’s performance in the tournament.

While we are on the Cheetahs, another glaring absentee from Meyer’s Bok-squad is the world’s best fetcher, the slippery pickpocket himself, Heinrich Brussow.

He is integral to any national side in that he is one of the few players who have remained consistent despite being hounded by injury and he ensures that whichever team he plays for receives the ball in the opposition’s possession.

As in any other sport, there is no national, homogenous standard for rugby, where all teams play on a level playing field. Some teams suck, quite frankly, tragically none no more than the team that I support, the Gauteng Lions.

But among these fringe poor performers there are some shining beacons of hope and talent, none more than the bearded mess called Josh Strauss. He is no agile, abundantly talented athlete, but he has heart.

He plays a hard game with courage as his primary fuel and as the current captain of the Lions, he inspires his players to exceed expectations – the Lions’ recent triumph over the Sharks comes to mind.

Rugby is in no crisis, at least not to the extent of soccer.

The Springboks will most likely win their series of encounters against England.

This however, does not mean that we the fans do not have the right to raise our voices about what is going on within our national side.

We will object where we see a coach straying down the wrong path and like true fans, we are well informed couch commentators with access to the power of Google and the replay.

A new coach, especially one that takes the reins after the De Villiers reign of terror, will be closely scrutinised, critiqued and will be called on for obviously poor choices.

Kitch Christie gave us our first World Cup, but he was hated by some “oomie” in Ventersdorp for allowing that dark fellow, Chester Williams, on the hallowed turf of Loftus Versveld, grass that was fertilised by young Afrikaans blood.

Rudolph Straeuli gave us “Kamp Staaldraad” and an unceremonious early exit from the 2003, Rugby World Cup. The days of De Villiers, purveyor of inaudible, incoherent sound bites and dicey selection choices, to much great relief is over.

Now, Meyer, a man with an impressive CV but one that has not yet extended to the international domain appears to be thinking that Bull’s rugby will win Test matches.

So my appeal, along with those of all other South African Rugby fans is that Meyer does not repeat the mistakes of De Villiers.

For once the fans turn on their coach, no amount of appeals, justification and debate will win back their hearts.

Ask Pitso.

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