Relegation threat drives WP selection
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee has admitted that it was the threat of having to play a promotion-relegation game to defend the team’s Absa Currie Cup status that drove his decision to select all his returning Springboks for Saturday’s game against the Cheetahs.
Coetzee was quite outspoken a few weeks ago about the playing schedule, suggesting that unless players were better managed the impact of too much rugby would impact on South African rugby next year.
He suggested at that press conference that skipper Jean de Villiers and the other long-serving Bok in his team, Bryan Habana, might be rested at the start of the next Super Rugby season in a move that would take its cue from the New Zealand decision to give All Black skipper Richie McCaw a sabbatical.
Asked at the WP team selection press conference on Wednesday if selecting all his Boks might not be a contradiction of his previously stated view that players need to be better managed, Coetzee said that the threat of relegation had forced his hand.
“Initially the thought process and understanding was that the Springboks would not play Currie Cup at all this year, but we are all facing the prospect of having to play a relegation game,” said Coetzee.
“We might end up playing a promotion-relegation game, so if we have Springboks available, why not use them? No-one wants to play a promotion-relegation game. WP and promotion-relegation are just not words that should belong together. It might have been different for us if there was no promotion-relegation.”
Coetzee hinted that he might be prepared to rest Boks if his team get through to the play-offs.
“That is something we will look at when we get to that point. I would have to look at how much the guys have played, who needs a rest and who doesn’t.”
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, who will lead the WP team against the Cheetahs, left little doubt that there was concern among the players at the situation that has arisen by pointedly not talking up the excitement of playing Currie Cup rugby when he was asked how he felt about having to play.
PLAYERS HAVE NO SAY
“To be honest I don’t think it is really relevant what the players feel. I think those are the decisions that the administrators make and we are contracted to the union and in some instances SA Rugby and when you are needed to play for some of those teams you just have to get on with it,” said De Villiers.
“You can’t go to your job tomorrow and say you don’t want to work. And it is the same with us. We all have our views and some players feel differently, some guys are in a different state in terms of where their bodies are at in comparison to others.
"But as long as the decision lies with the unions we don’t have any say and we don’t have any say in what we think and feel, we just have to get on with it.”
De Villiers said that the players were making themselves heard through the South African Rugby Players Association on what they felt should be done regarding the contracting system in the country.
In New Zealand the national players and Super Rugby players are centrally contracted, whereas in South Africa the system is different, with the provinces calling the tune.
“At the moment we are in a situation where several teams don’t have players available because they are injured, and players have been playing too much rugby,” said De Villiers.
“We need to get ourselves to a situation where the top players are looked after and protected so that we can be at our optimum whenever we play. I am referring to the top 30, as in the national squad, and also the top 150 that would make up the Super Rugby squads, with that competition becoming so important and the rugby so tough.”
Asked by a reporter if he had a special desire to play in the Currie Cup so that he could win it for the first time with WP, De Villiers also appeared to side-step the question rather than give the standard PR response.
“We are a long way from that,” said De Villiers after a long pause where he appeared to be thinking carefully about his response.
“I think winning anything is always a highlight, and seeing that I haven’t won any with WP, it would be a highlight, but winning the Currie Cup is not something we are thinking about or talking about at this stage.
"We may end up playing in a promotion-relegation game, the Currie Cup final is a long way away still.”