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Rugby | Springboks

Springboks © Gallo Images

The Bren Den: time for a 30-test re-think?



It’s clear as daylight – the 30-test rule isn’t working. We need a massive rethink.

While there may still be a lot of emotion going around after Saturday’s poor Springbok performance and what it says about the current state of Springbok rugby, a few things are abundantly clear.

First, the 30-test rule isn’t working. In fact, it is working against the Springboks.

We live in a professional era in a professional sport, and unfortunately that means that way too often players will simply follow the money.

It isn’t unusual for a player to feel that under a certain coach he has no future in a national team. So, under the advice often of friends, family and mostly agents, they look abroad. It is lucrative, and a good spell can mean a player sets himself and his family up for life financially.

And therein lies the rub.

The decision to limit overseas-based Springboks to those playing more than 30 tests is laudable. In theory it has been a good move, and will keep players in South Africa. But has it?

LOST SERVICES

Since that decision was taken we’ve lost the services of Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach. The Boks aren’t able to call on Marcell Coetzee, or Vincent Koch for that matter. This year alone the Boks lost several tightheads, but because of the deal they weren’t allowed to call Koch in. Permission denied, the rule was enforced and that is that.

I hear the arguments of South Africa having a conveyor belt of talent, but that only stretches so far. Talent is one thing, but at test level it is often experience that makes a vital difference. And this is where the Springboks are currently severely lacking.

If South Africa was New Zealand and the national union could centrally contract, it may be different. But 12 players on Bok contracts is an economic reality. There is another debate on that altogether but that is the reality the Bok coach must deal with, and means that while the team had a camp before the current November tour, they simply didn’t even have the numbers to train as a team.

There will be those who say this isn’t the answer, but if you look at every top international team in sport, the best recipe is always to blend youth with experience. The old heads guide the young through tough times, they help them navigate their way through the rough spots and they lead by example.

GOOD ENOUGH, YOUNG ENOUGH

When looking at Saturday’s Dublin defeat, one wonders what old heads like a Schalk Burger, a Duane Vermeulen, Willie le Roux or JP Pietersen would have added. Perhaps not all of them, but certainly some. Francois Louw is the perfect example of a player from overseas that adds value.

That will also mean we need, as a nation of rugby fanatics, to get past the argument that players are too old. Part of the problem in our rugby make-up at the moment is that European clubs have cleaned out the top players and left the Currie Cup as a youth competition. Great in terms of exuberance, but when looking at test rugby, that's often not the best way to build for the national team.

The 30-test rule isn’t stopping players from competing overseas and needs to be rethought. There needs to be an innovative new approach, one that can couple the demands of overseas clubs and not damage the game locally. We need to make playing for the Springboks attractive again.

There have been stories told privately of ex-Bok players abroad who are not interested in donning the green and gold jersey again. That’s fine, but at least let there be some honesty.

Andries Bekker took some flack when he announced he wasn’t available to play for the Boks and everyone moved on. Bekker was honest and made his decision, and there was none of the longing for him to return. Professional sport can sometimes be a harsh arena, but honesty makes a lot of things better.

Currently a tightrope is being walked. Concessions are made that make no sense for the Springboks. Jan Serfontein should never have been released for the tour, but to keep his club happy and allow them to be nicer to the Boks in future, he was allowed to take time to settle in at Montpellier. Which other nation would have allowed that?

LET US KNOW

Louw has been one player who has always said he wants to play for the Boks and that should be applauded. Others need to make the decision as well. We can’t consistently have the argument over the likes of Vermeulen, Frans Steyn and others if nobody knows whether they want to play test rugby again or not.

The current Springbok team is loaded with talent, but their performances when things go wrong have left them looking like a team bereft of confidence, direction and sometimes leadership. Top teams have experienced leadership cores to guide them. This Bok team is still learning and growing, but they are nowhere near what is needed.

Building a team at test level is incredibly difficult. Just 12 weekends a year with limited time to implement plans and often without the very personnel you need so desperately, it is a process that is fraught with danger. Then Springbok fans rightfully expect their team to perform in every test that they play.

By excluding those with so much experience, the Boks have done themselves a disservice.

Of course the argument is much more complex than just this above. Overseas players often don’t have the same fitness levels and generally can’t join the team until the week of the test when the Rule 9 comes into play.

But there are ways around this. They require commitment from the players, some innovative thinking and a clear direction for all involved.

It is not likely that those experienced Boks may have changed the course of Saturday’s result. But there would have been more composure, more direction and Springbok rugby wouldn’t be talking about another moment of rebuilding and crisis when, two years out from the World Cup, the team now needs to start narrowing the focus for Japan 2019.



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