SA’s forgotten Springbok

2014-11-01 00:00

DESPITE being fully fit, Bulls centre JJ Engelbrecht is the only contracted Springbok left out of Heyneke Meyer’s squad for the year-end tour to Europe.

Willem Alberts, Siya Kolisi and Flip van der Merwe were contracted players not considered for the tour due to injury, but Engelbrecht has been left out due to a dip in form.

After the heights of 2013, when he played 11 Tests for the Springboks, Engelbrecht endured an indifferent start to the year when he produced below-par performances for the Bulls in Super Rugby. He was subsequently not picked for any Tests in 2014, despite gaining a national contract following a successful 2013.

However, Engelbrecht started regaining some of the form that made him a Springbok when he slowly found his feet for the Bulls during this year’s Currie Cup, only for a silly ruling that prevented him from playing for the Bulls at the tail-end of the competition.

The 25-year-old played a part in the Bulls’ resurgence towards the end of the competition, when the Pretoria side snuck in at the back door to make the semi-finals. However, with the Rugby Championship concluding on the first weekend of October, Engelbrecht was not allowed to play in the Bulls’ last round-robin match against Griquas the following week, as well as their semi-final clash against WP at Newlands, which they lost 31-23.

Perhaps those last two games, especially the knockout one at Newlands, were just the right opportunity for Engelbrecht to build some more confidence and again catch the eye of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

But he was not allowed to play because of Saru’s policy that no contracted Springboks were allowed to play in the latter rounds of Currie Cup following the conclusion of the Boks’ Rugby Championship campaign.

The Bulls also had injury worries in midfield, with Burger Odendaal unable to face WP in the semis, which saw coach Frans Ludeke play Handré Pollard in the No 12 jersey — a move that eventually backfired.

What was ironic was that Pollard — who featured regularly during the Rugby Championship — was allowed to play Currie Cup because he was not a contracted Springbok, but Engelbrecht had to attend a training camp with the Boks in Stellenbosch instead.

Getting game time in the pressure-cooker environment of a Currie Cup semi-final would have done Engelbrecht the world of good.

He attended the training camp in Stellenbosch, but was again left out of the final Bok touring party for the tour to Europe. The Boks somehow opted to take four flyhalves along and only three centres — Jean de Villiers, Jan Serfontein and Damian de Allende.

I’m not saying Engelbrecht should have been picked for the year-end tour (WP’s Juan de Jongh was the Currie Cup’s standout centre), but playing in the latter rounds of the Currie Cup could have helped his cause. Now he must wait until next year’s Super Rugby competition before playing another competitive game.

Another example is that of De Allende — who had featured minimally during the Rugby Championship and could also have benefited with game time for WP in the Currie Cup. A knee injury forced him to miss the tail-end of the Super Rugby competition as well as the Springboks’ games against the World XV, Wales and Scotland in June.

Since then, the only rugby De Allende has played was two Tests against Argentina in August.

It’s understandably a tough scenario for Saru and the unions to negotiate on, and while Saru have done the right thing by keeping the Boks out of Currie Cup, surely in the case of some players needing game time, a compromise should be made with the unions. It would be for the greater good of Springbok rugby.

The Springboks will play Tests against Ireland (Dublin, November 8), England (London, November 15), Italy (Padova, November 22) and Wales (Cardiff, November 29).

Contracted Springboks

Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, JJ Engelbrecht, Eben Etzebeth, Cornal Hendricks, Francois Hougaard, Siya Kolisi, Patrick Lambie, Willie le Roux, Victor Matfield, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Jan Serfontein, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, Duane Vermeulen

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