Side Entry: SA rugby is still obsessed with individuals

Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Johannesburg - It’s that time of the year again, when every man or woman who’s ever been accused of being a rugby hack has little choice but to drop whatever cute niche sport they’d picked up in the summer and brush up on exit strategy talk and such other intricate stuff.

The return from the school holidays, as it were, coincided with Rudy Paige suddenly becoming homeless after the Bulls’ John Mitchell decided not to pick him for his Super Rugby squad.

Upon explanation, it’s a call that makes sense – player doesn’t suit the way coach wants to play, coach leaves player out.

And the really good thing was that Mitchell fronted up and gave rugby reasons for why Paige was omitted.

The general reaction to Mitchell’s call was that Paige’s axing was a shock.

In the context of there being no world-class scrum halves in the country, having one who is a Springbok not play Super Rugby does seem like the talent pool is being made shallower.

But blocking the paths of youngsters Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl and André Warner with a player who, with respect to his reported infectious positivity in a team environment, is essentially part of the no world-class scrum halves problem is not exactly attempting to solve the issue.

To be frank, the support for Paige comes more from our devil you know approach and obsession with individuals’ aspirations in one of the ultimate team sports.

Few sports are based on the kind of team work that rugby is – it’s a game in which the All Blacks have proven to us that it almost always takes 23 people to win.

To scrum their opponent, props need the help of their hookers; lock forwards need to complement each other; a loose trio, as an insightful colleague said recently, need to bring anticipation, impact and vision to the combo; and halfback pairings, midfielders and the back three also come with interdependent skills.

Yet, in South Africa, a country in which we still labour under the misapprehension that Madiba went through the struggle by himself, we believe in the power of the individual.

If you don’t believe that, take the recent news about Duane Vermeulen as an example.

There was unbridled celebration at the fact that he is leaving Toulon at the end of the French Top 14 season, with many thinking he would return in time to carry the Stormers and the Springboks on his broad shoulders.

But there was a collective wailing at the revelation that he might make his way back to South African rugby via Japan, where he will look to recoup some of the money he will lose by leaving Toulon before fully concentrating on his dream of going to the World Cup with the Boks next year.

Quite why we’d hang pretty much all our hopes on an injury-prone 31-year-old whose last great game for the Boks was in 2014 beggars belief.

We could try to find a suitable blindside flank or number eight to replace him, but we’d much rather just hope that he comes right for the World Cup, just like we did in 2015.

Our saviour – and villain – approach doesn’t end with players.

With Bok coach Allister Coetzee copping flak for apparently being the only reason our rugby standards have dipped, poor Rassie Erasmus is shaping up as the man now charged with taking us to the Promised Land.

We could turn the spotlight on to the administrators, who have done all the hiring and firing since things went pear-shaped, but that would mean we’d have to find out what administrators actually do.

So we put all our focus on individuals.

The irony is that, for all South Africa has lost by way of the brain drain, coach wise, or playing talent to the British pound, the euro and the Japanese yen, there are still just about enough people to get the job done if they work together.

It’s a new year and all that, and one hopes we’re not in for the same old story.


Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
40% - 14077 votes
13% - 4369 votes
19% - 6545 votes
3% - 902 votes
1% - 340 votes
2% - 809 votes
5% - 1762 votes
9% - 2971 votes
3% - 1218 votes
Water sports
1% - 320 votes
American sports
1% - 433 votes
3% - 1167 votes