Test rugby dying a quick death

2006-11-15 14:57

Mark Keohane

The Rugby World Cup, the cash cow of the International Rugby Football Board, has also become an economic drain on the South African Rugby Union.

Contracts are awarded to players on a World Cup cycle basis. Contracts are given to coaches and support team managers on a similar basis and because of the four year cash commitment, the game's administration is stuck. It is difficult to move players and near impossible to shift a national coach, whose argument should anything go awry is that he acted in the interests of the World Cup campaign.

This means that every losing Bok blow is softened with the designer label of 'World Cup 2007'. Every time the Boks are humiliated, it is in the name of the World Cup. Every time a Bok coach makes a dodgy selection decision, it is in the name of the World Cup. Every time the Bok coach wants to rest a player, it is in the name of the World Cup. Every time a Bok team gets hammered, the coach beams at a press conference and announces he has learned something in the build-up to the World Cup.

'Judge me at the World Cup,' says the Bok coach, like every one before him.

The Bok coach hides behind the World Cup. So do the selectors and support coaches. There is no accountability to winning Test matches and there is zero accountability to the supporter who pays a lot of money in the hope that the Boks will win.

The traditions of a 100 years mean nothing because there is now a World Cup. And when the World Cup comes and the Boks crash out in the quarter-finals, semi-finals or final, the cycle starts all over again. Four more years of misery in the hope that the Boks make it to a final and actually triumph in those last 80 minutes.

The World Cup is for gamblers and romantics. No one can plan and prepare to win the World Cup. You can plan and prepare to be competitive, but Joel Stransky's drop goal in 1995 and Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal in 2003 were not the result of a four year plan falling into place. There was romance and risk involved.

If the Boks win the World Cup next year it will be fantastic, but it should not excuse what every supporter has had to endure between the train smash of 2003 and last weekend's equally humiliating defeat against Ireland.

One World Cup triumph does not make up for the horror show that is a four year losing national team. It is easy to mock the All Blacks as chokers of World Cups, but at least their paying public gets four good years and one crappy afternoon. The South African equivalent is four crappy years and a half-baked Saturday afternoon when something may go right, like Andre Pretorius knocking over a 78th minute penalty.

There should be accountability to winning Test matches and not World Cups. The Bok coach should be judged on how his Test team performs every weekend and not whether or not he wins a World Cup. Test matches have been devalued in the professional era and national coaches are further cheapening the occasion by picking second rate players, all in the name of experimentation and the pretence of potential World Cup success.

Jake White and Andy Robinson should not be at Twickenham as head coaches of their respective teams because their results have been diabolical. Many of the players who will sing the anthems should not be there because they are not good enough.

But it will not matter to the RFU, Saru and the IRB. More than 80 000 paying spectators will be there and that, the custodians of the game will argue, is good enough.

The game has been cheapened through second rate players, second rate selections and second rate coaches, but the price of admission to watch the farce has become more expensive. People are paying to watch a second rate show. Long live mediocrity. Long live the World Cup. Test rugby, as we once knew it, is dead - all in the name of the World Cup.

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