An eventful year ahead – on and off the field
And, the new Springbok rugby coach is ….., sorry, no answer yet, but the suspense is killing the South African rugby fans. Watch this space, but the 27th January will – we hope – provide the final answer to the question whether Heyneke Meyer or Gert Smal will be filling the most coveted and most challenging position in South African sport.
The other question to be answered sooner or later, is how many rugby-careers of coaches and directors will be derailed in 2012 by political agendas and in-fighting. Two weeks into January the year has already claimed the first victim in Rassie Erasmus. (More about Erasmus later in this column).
Meyer was the Bulls-coach who won the Currie Cup four times, the Super14-crown once, and was assistant coach of the Springboks in 1999.
As director of rugby of the Bulls, he is arguably one of the shrewdest rugby-coaches in South Africa.
Victor Matfield, in his autobiography Victor my journey, described how he once hailed Meyer as his best coach ever, and how an incensed Jake White grabbed him while telling him that he had just won the Rugby World Cup.
Luckily, it did not come to blows…
Smal was a part of White’s Rugby World Cup winning coaching team, and was also one of the coaches of the Irish team that stunned the world by beating the Wallabies in a group-match at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The new Springbok coach will have twelve test matches in 2012 to entrench his rugby-pattern and –style.
This will be a start of a new era, because Matfield, Bakkies Botha, DanieRossouw, Fourie du Preez and possibly also Jaque Fourie and Guthro Steenkamp might not be part of the Springbok-fold in 2012.
Matfield revealed in his book that experienced players like Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger were in the dark about their prospects of getting a new contract, so they will feel that they have as much, if not more, to prove than a young player who comes with no baggage from the past.
The Boks will start their jam-packed schedule with tests against England in June in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
August will bring home and away clashes with Argentina as the creatively-named Rugby Championship kicks-off for the Boks in Cape Town before they pop across the Atlantic to take the Pumas on in Mendoza.
After five Test matches the new coach will be faced with his biggest test of the year – the trip to Australasia where the crowds in Perth and Dunedin will enjoy the novelty of watching a full-strength Springbok team play. (Source: www.rugby365.com.)
From there the action will move to the Highveld where the new Springbok team will meet die Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld before facing the might of the All Blacks in Soweto in what promises to be a sell-out crowd.
One thing the millions of Springbok-supporters hope for,is that the appointed coach will be the best man for the job, and that rugby politics will not rob the greatest rugby team on earth of a superb mentor.
Early in January, Erasmus vacated his position as director of rugby of Western Province, in his quest for new challenges. The spin doctors in the Cape expertly explained that he left in his search of a new adventure.
Yet, during the course of the weekend, new facts were revealed in an email sent to former Western Province-administrators and –players. It seems as if Erasmus was forced out of the rugby fold by politics.
He wanted his brother-in-law Human Kriek in a technical assistant role in the Western Province set-up but that was vetoed by the board. He also wanted to appoint a specialist as fitness coach, but once again, his request was denied by the board.
Erasmus acknowledged in an interview with Rapport that rugby-politics are demanding, especially in a region with 86 clubs, all with their own agendas.
If you override and dominate a rugby-genius with a dogmatic and prescriptive agenda that is not in the best interest of the game, but that is intended to serve your own parochial constituency, you are looking for trouble.
Perhaps Western Province should ask themselves some tough questions. One of those is why they still play second fiddle to provinces like the Sharks and the Bulls in terms of their ability to lure players, and why they lose quality players like Johann Sadie, JJ Engelbrecht, Conrad Hofmann and Fourie.
Why were they not able to make counter-offers to keep players like Sadie and Engelbrecht.
Why is succession planning at Western Province so much poorer than that of the Bulls and the Sharks, and why has this region failed to win a trophy of note since 2001.
The past five years the Bulls (Super-trophies in 2007, 20009 and 2010 and the Currie Cup in 2009), the Sharks (Currie Cup in 2008 and 2010), the Cheetahs (Currie Cup in 2007) and the Lions (Currie Cup in 2011) all grabbed silverware.
Yet, Western Province has been the proverbial bridesmaid during this period.
Perhaps the state of affairs is not due to the quality of their players or their coaches, but because of the quality of their political in-fighting and poor leadership by their management.
Talking about in-fighting and leadership: the South African Rugby-union will have to take a decision soon about the participation of the Southern Kings in the Super Rugby competition in 2013.
The Kings were formed as a potential sixth South African Super Rugby team when Super Rugby expanded from a 14 team format to a 15 team format.
The Kings went up against the Melbourne Rebels who won the 15th team licence and joined the Australian conference which gave South Africa, Australia and New Zealand each five teams
South African Rugby want a sixth Super Rugby team as they have given the government a commitment to have them in Super Rugby after the government built the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium for the Football world cup and had hoped that the Kings would be based there.
As the stadium is becoming a White Elephant the South African government is putting South African rugby under pressure to include the Kings but Die Burger newspaper has reported that several rugby officials feel the Kings’ automatic inclusion in the 2013 tournament is not in the best interests of South African rugby.
Rumour has it that South African rugby officials told the Southern Kings that they would be included in Super Rugby if their Currie Cup franchise the EP Kings won promotion from the Currie Cup First Division to the Premier Division but they failed to achieve this in 2011. (Source: www.rugby365.com)
Recently, Cheeky Watson and his son, Luke Watson, captain of the Southern Kings, have spoken candidly about preparing the Kings for the 2013-tournament.
But who will be making way for the Kings? And how can the Kings be included if they are not able to win a place amongst the participants in the Premier Division of the Currie Cup? They were soundly beaten by the Boland Cavaliers in 2011, who won the First Division Cup last year.
What will the South African Rugby Union do? Will they indulge in our favourite pastime – rugby-politics – to ensure the Kings a safe passage into Super Rugby in 2013?
The Springbok fixtures and venues for 2012 are:
9th v England in Durban
16th v England in Johannesburg
23rd v England in Port Elizabeth
18th v Argentina in Cape Town
25th v Argentina in Mendoza
8th v Australia in Perth
15th v New Zealand in Dunedin
29th v Australia in Pretoria
6th v New Zealand in Soweto
10th v Ireland in Dublin
17th v Scotland in Edinburgh
24th v England in London