July 21, 2019

Springboks in need of Lions’ roar

Springboks in need of Lions’ roar

As the debate continues to rage over the future of Springbok coach Heyenke Meyer, one rugby organization will surely not be too sad to see him go when the seemingly inevitable takes place.

It is rather puzzling that not a single Lions player has been deemed worthy of inclusion in the Springboks team in the World Cup. One doesn’t agree with the selection of the Springbok coach, not just because one is from Gauteng, but also because the players have been doing so well!

The Golden Lions were crowned 2015 Currie Cup champions after a dazzling performance that saw them dispatch the Stormers with a 32 — 24 victory, capping a campaign where they have not lost a single match in the competition. One is surely speaking for most rugby supporters when one describes the Lions as inspirational. And we, in the Lion’s home province have been immensely proud of the organisation’s achievements.

Who would have thought this result possible a mere two years ago when the South African Rugby Union replaced the Lions with the Southern Kings in Super Rugby, after finishing at the bottom of the table for the third time in five seasons?

The union took this sanction on the chin and knuckled down to hard work, and they regained their place in the 2014 season. The club’s solid performances on the pitch in the last two years, both in Super Rugby, and the Currie Cup, have highlighted the abilities of several players. The likes of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert and Lionel Mapoe have been world class.

The front runners for the Springbok head coach – Allister Coetzee; the Lion’s own Johann Ackerman; Eddie Jones and Robbie Deans – will surely have noted this.

It must be a case of getting the coach to be more aware of these talented players. To this day, one has never seen the national coach attending one of these Lions matches. Maybe he is too busy. Two years ago the Lions gave themselves a goal. They have achieved that goal but they are not being recognised for their achievements. Their coach, Johan Ackermann, is probably one of the better coaches in the country now.

Don’t get me wrong. It paid for the organisation that the players were available to compete in the Currie Cup – South Africa’s most prestigious competition. But being a Springbok is a pinnacle for every player – playing for the country. That is the source of our unhappiness, that our players are not being recognised, even though they are doing so well.

The current selection model for the South African team is flawed. Unlike in other sport codes, where you have a selection panel, in rugby it’s that single coach that does the selection. Now you end up with a team that has too many old players, in my view, while capable, and, from their standard of play, deserving, players from this Johannesburg area are overlooked.

Before the Springbok team was announced, one player from the Lions was invited to the team’s camp, Warren Whitely. However, he was not selected. When one looks at the composition of the national side, and ultimately their shortcomings, it is difficult to understand why this player and others in the Lions squad were not given an opportunity to be in the national team. They are Springbok material.

It is incumbent upon the national coach to familiarise himself with the available pool of players from around the whole country. More players from the Lions need to be recognised, and given an opportunity to play for their country. One is not talking about the whole team, but people who are competent, but overlooked, all for the old players that are playing in the current national team.

(This article first appeared in The Star on 23 November 2015)

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