The Endangered Springbok: evolving icon of mediocrity

2016-06-23 06:36

After the Springbok rugby team lost to Ireland in the first “Inbound” test on June 11th, former All Black coach Graham Henry wrote these words in a column for a New Zealand newspaper – “What was alarming for me in the Bok loss to the Irish was the total lack of passion and commitment for the jersey. In my time as All Black coach we played against Bok teams that we knew didn’t have the talent and skills of us … but you knew you were in for an absolute war.

That fire and pride seems to be dying slowly and I am struggling to understand why. A once feared opponent, and now they are struggling to compete with top tier nations…”

The Supersport bulletin quoting Henry’s article went on to point out that in the past 10 months the Boks suffered their first ever defeat to Argentina – at home – and to Japan at the world cup in 2015 before succumbing to Ireland domestically for the first time ever.

But the die has been cast for some time now with the Boks having struggled with consistency for some years –during which time New Zealand has scaled new heights and taken rugby union to new levels.

An interesting report the same day read “South Africans excel in Top 14 playoffs” – referring to South African rugby talent showcased in the top French domestic tournament. Montpellier beat Castres in a semi final playoff with seven South Africans in their match squad. Apart from the opening try, all points were scored by South Africans.

In the other semi final playoff South Africans were similarly in evidence. What is this all telling us? It tells us two things – the one obvious, the other less so.

The first is that our currency is in tatters - nothing new there.

We cannot blame our professional players for seeking greener pastures. But then, our weak currency is a proximate cause obscuring ultimate deeper causes and a plethora of systemic issues.

The second thing it tells us is that we do not look after our rugby talent - but then that should not surprise us! We abuse our national assets and accumulated people-capital in many theatre of endeavour in a frenzied effort to mask the racial inferiority complex of the ruling elite and its followers.

Some weeks ago a New Zealand rugby spokesman commented on South Africa’s enforced policy of racial quotas by suggesting that the time would come when the All Blacks demur on engaging the Springboks. “If we are not playing their best players” he said, “why bother? We will be wasting our time”.

Given that some three to four hundred professional South African rugby players ply their trade overseas – mainly in Europe and Japan – it strikes me that we are settling for second best already.

By virtue of being a historically “white” sport, rugby is of course going to be in the crosshairs of racial attack and subject to the absurdities characterising South African public life. But it is, in fact little different to what continues to happen in our civil service, state education, parastatals, and public companies – to mention but some.

It is just more obvious and topical.

It is also sobering to reflect on the fact that pre-isolation the Springboks had beaten the All Blacks more often than they had lost to them. Rugby and national institutions in general (sporting and otherwise) creak under the dead weight of government surveillance and coercion.

That is why they fail. Ours is a government devoid of cognitive capacity, intuition, and a taste for hard work – preoccupied only with race. It has scant capacity to create, function productively or add value within its own resource capabilities; theft and confiscation are its default settings.

Thus the wounded Springbok has become an icon of not only an ailing national sport but a disabled economy, terminally ill government and wounded nation.

Poor animal.

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