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Rugby | Currie Cup

Are Bulls right to shun Boks?

The eternal club versus country debate has reared its head again after Vodacom Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell has decided not to use Springboks Handre Pollard and Rudy Paige in his team to face the Cell C Sharks in this weekend’s Currie Cup match in Durban.

But has Mitchell done the Springboks a disservice ahead of a crucial home leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship by not allowing Pollard in particular to get some much-needed game time?

Mitchell has been clear on his reasons for not selecting the duo, and it is his right as a coach in a competition, but there is a school of thought that says that the Springboks should come first, and the needs of the national side need to be prioritised if the Boks are to develop as a team.

That same school of thought would pose the question on how Mitchell himself would react if something similar happened while he was All Black coach and whether the New Zealand mantra of All Blacks first shouldn’t be similarly followed in South Africa.

It is unlikely that provincial coaches would have disregarded the views of the All Black coach in such a situation, while in South Africa it often seems the other way around.

Mitchell said he was clear that the duo wouldn’t be selected and explained why he would disregard the Springboks’ release of the players to get some game time.

“It’s always good to have the Springboks return, it is also nice for them because they have returned of their own accord as well. Clearly they enjoy the way that we prepare so it helps them heading towards their next camp,” he said.

“They won’t be selected this week for us and we have been very clear about that and they understand that. This is done for our team cohesion and the growth of ourselves is more important at this minute and they understand that. But they can also still prepare very well for test week by training with us in the training week.

“It’s pretty easy and I’ve had it before in the Currie Cup. Going into the final in 2011 I had to leave out Butch James and CJ van der Linde was also going to be left out but there was an injury to JC Janse van Rensburg.

“They were both of the understanding that the team had moved forward hugely in terms of cohesion and they understood they could contribute more coming through the bench. We are just starting to grow as a team and are mindful of making sure that we get continuity and cohesion. They’ve been very understanding and it has actually not been difficult for test players to just immerse themselves back in and expect to play well.

“Their intent is great but their rhythm, timing and everything is a new person. We’ve already had too much change as a result of factors that are beyond our control. We are at a stage now where we are getting closer to achieving continuity in the same group.”

Mitchell is right about one thing, especially in Pollard’s case. The last time Pollard played for the Bulls, the team philosophy was widely different from the way things are now, and it is likely that Mitchell feels the group can gain more from less disruptions at the moment, especially with a game they need to win in Durban.

This is especially so with the fact that the Bulls already removed Nollis Marais earlier this season as their Currie Cup coach, and there is widespread uncertainty at the moment with the way the coaching structures have been implemented, especially as there is an ongoing retrenchment process that has targeted coaching staff across the board.

In this situation it is understandable that Mitchell wants to try and gain some momentum with the players involved rather than disrupt the team for a once-off appearance before the Boks move back to the national team in Bloemfontein next week.

Add to this the fact that the Bok team already decided to let Pollard regain his fitness with them, rather than releasing him to get Currie Cup game time with the Bulls, it could be seen that the Bulls are simply following their lead.

The only worry though, is that Pollard’s return to playing action may be stunted, and in the wake of the 57-0 massacre at the hands of the All Blacks, the Boks will need all available top personnel at their best before the October 7 return match in Cape Town.

Mitchell praised his side’s performance in a narrow defeat at Ellis Park, his first return to the stadium since he left the Lions as coach.

“I really enjoyed the performance and was really proud of them (players) and the way they fought. Clearly we became a little bit uncomfortable and didn’t stick to the processes just before halftime which in the end was costly. But we presented ourselves the opportunity to win the match and we also got through the proper processes and we felt that there were some difficult decisions against us. There were a couple of big moments towards the end that were match sanctioned.

“We’ll go through the right channels for that. There were also a number of factors that the guys had to overcome, the guys played an excited style of rugby and the people can see what we are up to. We’ll get better at it as well.”

Mitchell was confident his side could beat the Sharks if they played them right and stuck to their processes.

“They are the best team in the competition and I thought that way back they probably have the most experience, a strong forward pack and they deserve to be where they are. I really believe we can beat anyone and it is a matter of making sure that we earn it through the 80 minutes and make sure we continue in getting better in all our processes.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and his management team won’t be happy that Pollard and Paige won’t get game time this weekend, especially with the stakes being higher over the next few weeks.

But until the Boks are made first priority above all else in South Africa, this will be the norm and not the exception.


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