Thank you Plum for bringing relevance
Okay so John Plumtree has given me a reason to be excited amidst all the hyperbole and marketing hubris that is sure to make the end of this Currie Cup season as big a contortion as suggesting that last week’s Castle Rugby Championship match between the Springboks and All Blacks was in Soweto.
On that last point, check the postal address of FNB Stadium, or Soccer City, as it is otherwise known. Failing that, take a look at the venue next time you fly over it, and note where Soweto is. I am sitting in Bloubergstrand at the moment and as the crow flies I am probably closer to Robben Island than I was to Soweto when I was in Nasrec last weekend.
But that’s a digression. Let the marketing people have their fun and let them change the facts to suit their ends if they want. If they want to say that London is next to Brisbane, let them, for there may be some truth in that if you make it relative to Mars, or even the moon.
The Currie Cup being played full strength in the decisive stages doesn’t sit well with me for several reasons, some of them being the same ones that concern my colleague Brenden Nel and probably Bok coach Heyneke Meyer and some of his players. Seeing Jean de Villiers dressed in his civvies because he was carrying an injury during Western Province training on Wednesday and then hearing he was going to play in the game against the Cheetahs at the weekend just made no sense.
Maybe the sponsors want to get some late season bang for their bucks, but the simple reality is that boosting the crowds at the end and giving the impression that the Currie Cup is still a big thing can’t hide the fact that it is now a poor second to Super Rugby, which takes up most of our rugby year. De Villiers even said it at the WP press conference, when in talking about the game-plan he referred to its relevance to what “we are building towards, which is Super Rugby”.
The Currie Cup was relegated in importance on the day that the new Super Rugby deal, which sees a double round of derbies and several extra matches added to each team’s schedule and the Castle Rugby Championship, ended in October. I feel sorry for WP coach Allister Coetzee, for he knows he would be damned by the public, media and quite probably his own administration if he doesn’t choose his Boks and WP end up losing and having to play in a relegation fixture.
But the decision shouldn’t be his. The issue of central contracting has been talked about by South African rugby ever since professional rugby came into being, and while it is not the only reason why the All Blacks and the New Zealand franchises have been consistently better than the South Africans in Sanzar rugby, it is a significant one.
Coetzee knew exactly what was being asked when the question was put to him at the WP press conference whether it was worth him risking his Boks in the Currie Cup when they had been overplayed. He has been more outspoken about players being over-played than anyone in South African rugby outside perhaps of Plumtree.
And he has been on the other side of the fence as the Springbok assistant coach during the Jake White era. So when he said that he would say one thing wearing his WP hat when he knew there would be another view from a national perspective, we knew what he was saying.
But it’s all such nonsense. The players from the wider Bok squad, in other words the Lwazi Mvovos, Tiaan Liebenbergs and Patrick Lambies should certainly be playing this weekend, but fielding the first-choice Boks when they have had such a long season and the first test of the overseas tour against Ireland in Dublin now just four weeks away makes absolutely no sense at all.
What Plumtree has done though is at least bring some relevance to these last weeks for the Bok management. In a telephone conversation after his team announcement he reminded me that Lambie had in fact played most of the Super Rugby season for the Sharks at flyhalf. He’s right about that too, so this elephant maybe doesn’t have as big a memory as he thought he had.
The point though was that Lambie didn’t play there long before he was injured, and then when he came back towards the end it was understandable that Plumtree should play him at fullback as Fred Michalak had picked up impressive momentum and so much of the team revolved around him.
By selecting Lambie at flyhalf for the game against Griquas, and making it known he is in fact the first-choice Sharks flyhalf, Plumtree has made it possible for us in these last three weeks of Currie Cup rugby – there will be three weeks for the Sharks, make no mistake about that, they are too good not to make the final – to for once have a rugby debate where we compare apples with apples.
If we are agreed that the Boks need something that Morne Steyn cannot bring, then the supposed showdown between Steyn and Elton Jantjies this coming Saturday is not as relevant as comparing Lambie and Jantjies in the same competition. Lambie, like Johan Goosen and Jantjies, is a player who can bring something extra to the flyhalf position and he should be vying with those two players for the right to be the pivot going forward.
For various reasons he hasn’t shown since his tremendous winning effort in the 2010 Currie Cup what he is capable of as a No 10, but now he does have that opportunity, and with Goosen set to miss the end of year tour, there is a gap to play for.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer seems set on playing Zane Kirchner at fullback and to be honest he has not been nearly as bad as people make out. But even so, my gut feel is that Jaco Taute is the future at No 15 for the Boks.
So maybe the Sharks are answering the call of their former scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar by settling Lambie in the position he should specialise in. I hope he makes the same statement that he did in 2010 and at least it has given some much needed relevance to an otherwise meaningless last few weeks that loom as a survival course for Meyer and several of his Boks.