Time we put Bok rugby first
It was never more apparent than during Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship test victory by the All Blacks over the Springboks that they are simply a class above the rest of the world at the moment.
And while we can look to place blame at someone’s doorstep – whether it be the coach, players, Saru, the weather or even the stadium – which now boasts a 0-2 record against the New Zealanders – there are certain things that cannot be argued.
For not only are the All Blacks a better side at the moment, but there is little argument that their central contracting system has done wonders for the way they condition their players, and their depth is a strength that few nations across the world can match at the moment.
Of course it was disheartening to see the Boks fail to stop the World Champs in the second half, but we can carry on demonising players and coaches, living from victory to victory, or we can actually do something about matching the best team in the world on a consistent basis.
Saturday was a reality check. It was the cold light of day and sobering dusk at a magnificent stadium to remind us that we aren’t all we think we are. Our rugby is not as strong as we believe it to be.
Those who argue this point should remember we have twice – in Jake White’s era and Peter de Villiers’ – sent a B-team on a Tri-Nations journey and have twice been handed massive hidings. While both those trips were masked by the bigger picture of a World Cup later in the year, they were also constant reminders that our depth in player ranks is not as good as we believe it to be.
South African rugby has survived over the years because every now and then we get things right. We manage to stumble onto success every few years because we simply cannot shoot ourselves in the foot that often.
We have a massive pool of talent, but we rip into players at the first sign of weakness, not to mention the fact that virtually every single provincial coach in this country has not done enough to develop the vast untapped resources of up-and-coming black talent in the country.
Instead, we think along provincial lines and complain about those South Africans who wear All Black jerseys and abuse our Springbok players who they see as the enemy, but feel nothing when our own fellow Bok supporters do the same to the players they claim represents them on the field.
Every test defeat is treated as the end of the world, and virtually every single Springbok coach is on his way to being fired the day he is appointed to the job.
Compare this to New Zealand who have just seen Graham Henry hand over the coaching reigns to an assistant who has been with the team for more than 100 tests, after an eight-year reign himself.
Compare this to the legacy of success which runs through the veins of New Zealand rugby, where the central contracting system allows for coaches and players to be supported by their peers.
There is a sense in New Zealand that everything flows upward, that every decision or movement, every game-plan, is used to benefit the All Blacks. Everything is done for a singular goal.
Of course there are failings in every system, and of course there are some examples of where they get it wrong, but when last did you hear a provincial coach complain about an All Black coach the way John Plumtree did this weekend about the Boks?
Never mind the way Jake White savaged Peter de Villiers during his reign, or the way White was subjected to a panel of ex-Bok coaches when he was trying to see the Bok squad through a difficult time.
And before you accuse this column of wanting to stifle dissent, let me state clearly that criticism is indeed part of the game, and – where warranted – always has a place. All I’m trying to say is that you never seem to see it in New Zealand rugby.
There will always be those who will disagree with me, and will believe the fault lies with a coach/player/administrator, and will blindly believe we are better than the All Blacks at the moment and it was our own failings that cost us victory.
We can carry on like that for years to come and no matter who the coach is, they will face the same barrage of abuse and criticism. They will find it difficult to move in a system that doesn’t put the Springboks first. And inevitably, they will fail.
But this is also not advocating self-defeat. Because there is a load of light at the end of the tunnel, if we choose to use it wisely.
We need to admit that on Saturday we were not good enough. We weren’t on the same level as the All Blacks. But then we need to do something about it. The South African rugby community needs to do something about it.
Provincial administrators need to help Saru find a way of implementing a central contracting system that will benefit all provinces AND the Springboks, and help keep our best players fresh.
Provincial coaches need to help and support the Bok coach, whoever he may be, and not offer public help while behind the scenes working against his every move.
Players need to be backed to succeed, given the right amount of game-time and not played into the ground. They also need to be developed according to a national plan, with the whole system moving in the same direction.
Lastly, fans need to be patient. To learn that not every defeat or victory is the be all and end all of rugby life. To learn that there is a process in every team, a cycle that they build on and if they get it right, the Boks will be able to consistently challenge for the number one spot in the world.
And national administrators need to fight harder for competitions that won’t kill off our chances because players are injured, played into the ground or mentally exhausted, just so we can add more dollars to the bottom line.
South African rugby needs to find a common vision. One that can be backed and one which has a succession plan.
We have an enormous amount of young talent coming through – especially if you look at the SA under-20 squad that took the IRB Junior World Cup and the six under-21 players in the current Bok squad.
The chance is there to draw a line in the sand and work together across the board to make the Boks the most feared team on the planet.
Or we can simply carry on waiting for every team, every player, and every coach to fail.
To continue the conversation, follow Brenden on Twitter at @brendennel