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Cape Cabal, Blue Boks and April’s Fool…

Heyneke Meyer shouldn’t be surprised that news of his intention to load his Springbok management with his former employees at the Bulls has prompted people to refer to the Blue Boks.

Lest he has forgotten, Meyer maybe needs reminding that he was part of a Springbok management under Nick Mallett in 1999 that was known to people in the north of the country as The Cape Cabal. Then the head coach of South Western Districts and assistant coach at the Stormers, Meyer was the forwards coach under Mallett, who like his backline coach Alan Solomons was back then as Capetonian as the summer south easter and the dead fish that get sold at Kalk Bay harbour.

Another inhabitant of the southern suburbs, Jake White, was the technical adviser before he was sacked, while Constantia-dwelling Rob van der Valk was his logistics manager. Even likeable ceremonial manager Arthob Petersen was from the region, though like Meyer he didn’t conform to the stereotype of those days of a Bok management member being mostly white and English speaking.

Actually, I am scratching my head now to remember if there was anyone in any management position in that era who was not from the Cape. Even the media manager Alex Broun, though initially Australian, was a well-known face around the party spots of Bree Street and Claremont long before he got drawn into Mallett’s management.

The people of Pretoria and Johannesburg didn’t like the Cape domination, and I can even remember getting accused of being part of the Cape Cabal myself, and being verbally abused by a very frustrated and slightly inebriated Joburg based hack while in Dublin during one of the overseas tours.

Cape Cabal and Cape media were regarded as one and the same by my northern friends, and Mallett’s successor, Harry Viljoen, didn’t do anything to change that perception when he appointed one of us, Mark Keohane, to be his adviser.

Viljoen was seen to be different to Mallett though. For one thing, he wasn’t a born and bred Capetonian, and had played his rugby for Transvaal and coached them, and for another thing he wasn’t nearly as successful as Mallett was.

Which is what Meyer should remember now – in the initial part of Mallett’s reign, from the 1997 end of year tour through to the end of 1998, no-one gave a fig about where Mallett’s management members were from because they were successful. It was only when the Boks were losing that they became the Cape Cabal. And once Meyer’s team starts to play, it will be the winning and the losing that determines whether his men are known as Springboks or are known as Blue Boks.

That is just the nature of the beast, the beast being the South African rugby media and rugby public, and he is way too intelligent to need me to remind him of this fact.

For the record, and the sake of full honesty, the number of Blue Bulls employees in the key positions does make me uncomfortable. When Meyer was in charge of the Bulls a few years ago, they were the leading union, but it is debatable that they are that any more.

But then my reservations may be the product of ignorance. I mean that in the sense that with the exception of John McFarland, who has always impressed me as a particularly astute rugby man, I just don’t know the other guys. If Matthew Proudfoot or John Plumtree had been chosen as forwards coaches I would have been more comfortable than I am with Johan van Graan, but that is only because I know them and I don’t know him.

So this is an instance where I am going to take the same line I did at the start of 2004 when Jake White was mystifying many people both in the north and the south with some of his appointments and selections. When there was an outcry even before White’s team had played a game, I wrote that it was unjustified as White’s reputation would be built around how successful he was, and he surely wouldn’t make appointments that he felt would stand in the way of that quest.

It has to be the same with Meyer, who has made good recruitments in the past and has to be given the right to surround himself with the people he feels he needs to help him achieve his objectives. Judgement only starts happening once the team has actually started playing.

As for the speculation about him bringing back Victor Matfield as a player and a captain, that has been on the rumour mill for a while now, but given how Peter de Villiers was pilloried for sticking with the old guard, it really is too preposterous to be anything other than an April Fool’s joke. Surely?

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