Provincialism will be the death of us
Rugby fans are funny things. Passionate and strong willed, opinionated and with a love of the game that is seldom matched by other sports in this country.
But while as a new South Africa we have tasted the highs and lows of international rugby, won World Cups and endured scandals that have made us look inward, increasingly there is a trend to be one-eyed and provincial in our outlook.
Last weekend while sitting in Durban, in the middle of the Bok test and while the Boks were winning, I couldn’t believe my twitter and Facebook timeline was still being flooded by people who were referring to the “Springbulls” and “Bulls v England”.
With little comprehension of what was going on, these same folk forgot that there were seven Sharks in the starting line-up, and no matter what provincial bias you prefer, it was the Green and Gold, the Springboks who were playing – not just for a coach, but for the pride of a nation.
Speak to any player and he will scoff at the thought of any provincialism within the camp. But look outside and every comment board, every forum is filled with vitriol of anger and hate at a supposed Bulls bias.
If my years in this business have taught me one thing, it is that nobody will ever be happy with a Springbok team. Whoever the coach, whatever his background, there will always be players regarded as the coach’s favourites.
There will always be players unlucky not to have made it. There will always be selections we don’t agree with.
This is not something new, and happens in all sports and to all countries across the world. Ask the New Zealand public whether they want Piri Weepu in the squad and you’ll probably hear a similar debate, even though All Black coach Steve Hansen sees a talented player who can add value to the squad.
Still, the one thing that should unite this country is the national team. Players do not pick themselves, and a coach is selected because he was the best candidate.
But unfortunately these past few weeks have seen a distorted picture of what people believe Heyneke Meyer wants for the Bok team. I’ve heard every theory on earth, and everyone seems to start with a Bulls bias.
I’ve known Meyer a long time, and he is only interested in one thing – winning. I once quizzed him on his Bok team several years ago when the Bulls had won their third Currie Cup, and was surprised that few Bulls would have made his starting line-up.
His match-22 selections have proven this in the past two weeks as more Sharks have been selected than any other team.
But then there are the stats. I’ve gone and delved into the past to see if there really is such a bias and if perhaps, as I’m sure I will be accused of being Bullish, I may be wrong.
Looking at team selections of Jake White and Peter de Villiers, the trend proves my point. Both previous coaches on average picked more Bulls players than Heyneke in their match 22.
Just look at the stats below, and you can see that this is the case, and a clear trend starts to come to the fore.
26/05/2007 - England - BB = 8 KZN = 8 WP = 2
02/06/2007 - England - BB = 7 KZN = 8 WP = 2
16/06/2007 - Australia - BB = 7 KZN = 8 WP = 2
23/06/2007 - New Zealand - BB = 6 KZN = 8 WP = 2
07/07/2007 - Australia - BB = 6 KZN = 8 WP = 3
14/07/2007 - New Zealand - BB = 6 KZN = 7 WP = 5
09/09/2007 - Samoa - BB = 6 KZN = 8 WP = 2
14/09/2007 - England - BB = 7 KZN = 9 WP = 0
14/10/2007 - Argentina - BB = 6 KZN = 9 WP = 1
20/10/2007 - England - BB = 8 KZN = 8 WP = 1
PETER DE VILLIERS
05/06/2010 - Wales - BB = 5 KZN = 7 WP = 5
12/06/2010 - France - BB = 11 KZN = 3 WP = 7
10/07/2010 - New Zealand - BB = 10 KZN = 3 WP = 7
17/07/2010 - New Zealand - BB = 9 KZN = 3 WP = 7
24/07/2010 - Australia - BB - 12 KZN = 3 WP = 4
21/08/2010 - New Zealand - BB = 9 KZN = 3 WP = 7
28/08/2010 - Australia - BB = 8 KZN = 4 WP = 6
04/09/2010 - Australia - BB = 8 KZN = 4 WP = 7
27/11/2010 - England - BB = 8 KZN = 7 WP = 2
23/07/2011 – Australia – BB = 9 KZN = 8 WP = 2
30/07/2011 – NZ – BB = 8 KZN = 8 WP = 1
13/08/2011 – Australia – BB = 8 KZN = 6 WP = 4
20/08/2011 – NZ – BB = 8 KZN = 4 WP = 3
Heyneke chose seven Bulls in his match 22 in last week’s test and eight (through injury) this week for the Coca-Cola Park game.
In both cases he has hardly had more of a Bulls tinge than his predecessors.
But the argument may be made for more Stormers in the squad; and it is a valid one – there certainly were players who were unlucky and who will be there shortly.
What should be remembered, and Heyneke said it more than once this year, that he chose conservatively for the England series because he had little time to work with players.
Therefore, as he repeated, he was going with experience over talent, and would blend that talent in later on.
The bottom line in this argument, however, is pretty simple. This isn’t a Super Rugby or provincial franchise. These are the Springboks.
Yes, we all would love to have our own favourite players in the squad and yes there were definitely players who deserved to be there and aren’t, and others, in my opinion, who are lucky to have their places.
But Meyer has been entrusted with a role to play, to see his vision out of creating a winning team.
He has a very good track record and the imprints of his plan for domination could be seen from the second-half performance.
Surely we should give him a chance, and stop this nonsensical bleating on provincial grounds.
After all, it is Bok Friday, and my blood is green.
I, for one, won’t be blind to his faults, but I also don’t care what province a player is from.
These are the Springboks. They deserve our support.
Save the provincialism for the rest of the year. For now, only Green and Gold matter.