I love me some rugby. I am really getting into the sport at the moment, with the Tri Nations heading for a final match thriller between the Blackness and the Criminal Element in Brisbane, Wellington dominating the Air New Zealand Cup and Wanganui asserting their dominance in the lower divisions with an 11 try thrashing of East Coast on the weekend. I love watching the contest on the international stage most of all – the All Blacks taking on the Wallabies and the Boks is the highlight of every years rugger, and this year has been one of the better ones. Watching the Blackness totally dominate the Crim’s in Auckland a couple of weeks ago was one of the best games of rugby from the AB’s I’ve watched in a long time, and it goes a long way to erasing the memory of last year’s World Cup.
But amongst this awesome spectacle of the oval ball, we have had politics intrude, and not for the betterment of sport or rugby in general. South Africa has struggled to strike an even keel between its post apartheid political climate and the fact that a national sports team should be representative of its best talent, and not its ethnic makeup. We have seen the World Cup winners of last year lose 4 of its last 5 matches against the AB’s and the Aussies in what can only be called one of the more crap displays of coaching we’ve seen since Buck Shelford was replaced by Zinzan Brooke.
Peter de Villiers has a reasonable pedigree with success in Under 19 and Under 21 SA Rugby but many have said that he lacks experience in the professional level of the game. His appointment last year after the Boks won the world cup came in a cloud of controversy and a few bent noses. Jake White, the previous coach who had led the Jarpies to victory on the world stage was sacked by SARU (South African Rugby Union) and Peter was put in his place, and many have wondered whether the placement was more motivated by politics than performance. And its precisely this that has led to the current crisis in the Bokkies camp, leading to a series of poor performances on the field that belies the turmoil in the changing sheds. Several sources inside the SA camp have said there is a disconnect between the senior players and the coaching staff, with some players wanting the coach to go, some players dictating the terms with which they train and play, and key figures undermining the coach.
Politics and sport do not mix – I understand the need of the South African government and ruling parties to move their country forward, but interfering with their national rugby team will only bring them pain. If they left it alone, allowed the best person for the job to be picked rather than the best person for an image, then they would reap a reward far greater than anything they could engineer themselves – national pride.
Peter is probably a very good coach, and as I said before he has had some success – but there were probably better candidates for the job. He is in a very difficult position and he is trying to forge a good team from an awkward circumstance – caught between politically motivated union officials, players who don’t agree with his coaching methods and the fans who just want them to win. In saying that he doesn’t seem to make it easy for himself, and he routinely makes verbal gaffes that must make the SA fans shake their head in bewilderment. Case in point is the recent loss to the Aussies – if you caught the game you would have made the same overall summary of the Boks game as me – it was crap. There was no cohesion, no apparent game plan, and none of the players seemed to know what the others were doing. They played so badly the crowd booed them off the park – not what I’d do as a fan of my national side personally, but the fans are probably very frustrated. What did Peter have to say?
"I know people are angry and rightfully so. I am prepared to take all that responsibility for the good of the team.”
Ok – that sounds fine. He sounds like he’s trotting out the old “we screwed it up, sorry my bad, back to the drawing board” line, but then he says the Boks were the better side (???) :
"We should have won, the opportunities were there but we just let them slip. I'm not going to panic because, having watched the video again, I saw how great we played.”
What video was he watching – last year’s cup final?
"Decision-making in split seconds is new to the guys and it has been a bit worrying. The onus is now on the player, but they want to be in a confined group where they are comfortable."
Ah – so what he’s said is “Its all my fault, but the players don’t know how to play professional footy so I’m blaming them”. He’s lost the plot, and this is what happens when you put an inexperienced coach in charge of a national team – he’s out of his depth, has no respect from the players and is deluding himself that it will all come right eventually. My prediction for the next few months? Aussie will beat them again this weekend, Peter will be sacked or step down within 1 month and hopefully (but not likely) someone who has actual experience and skill will be appointed as the coach. Come back Jake, all is forgiven!
Why do I care you may ask? I love watching the AB’s win more than anything, but it’s no fun when the opposition is not the best or playing to their full potential. The victory is sweetest when both teams play their guts out, and yours is the one that comes out on top. Its just no fun when the opposition is hobbled – it’s like playing indoor footy against 5 year olds. Sure you win, and easily, but its not really a contest and it strips the fun out of the game. Here’s hoping Saffa rugby sorts itself out for the end of year tour and next years Tri nations.