Rugby Union in South Africa seems to be at a cross road. Not just in the Springbok team but also in the local game with the Lions/Spears Super Rugby fiasco dominating headlines, rather than on-field brilliance. What we’ve seen over the last few weeks is a good Springbok side playing with an out-dated strategy and at times confusing selections. What the team needs is a vision for the future and something to grow towards, for me, that clearly isn’t happening. From such a successful coach when he was at the helm of the Bulls, it’s been a very surprising start. His stubbornness in sticking to a strategy when it isn’t working has been frustrating at best. Draws against Argentina and England are simply not good enough for a country whose franchise sides feature in the best in the World. This leaves the fans with a lot of questions.
Watching recent performances I was left wandering how it could possibly take this long to put together a loose forward trio like the one we finally have. Pierre Spies hasn’t been a force for many a year but was included regardless. Then the out of form Morne Steyn – we should’ve brought in the in-form kicker – Peter Grant. Unfortunately he’s now in Japan and HM won’t select him. We do of course have the massively talented Goosen coming through – but how long did that substitution take? Then we have a scrum half on the wing, Habana on the wrong wing, Jean De Villiers in the wrong centre position! These are all very strange selections that haven’t worked but continue to be made. Then we come to Full Back; Zane Kirschner who hasn’t offered much to the Springbok side at all, when we have an exciting player like Patrick Lambie who has been sent on with hardly any time left against the All Blacks when he could’ve made a massive difference much earlier. They say this team is building to the future but there is a leaning on an out of form old guard that is very worrying. Even a positive performance against Australia can’t hide how easily the All Blacks managed to beat us at home – by a convincing score line as well.
Then we have to deal with what we’ll be watching in next year’s Super Rugby. Though I do feel the Southern Kings do deserve an opportunity of being promised a lot of things over the last few years, losing the Lions is a massive price to pay for local rugby. It leaves us with a complicated situation where we’ll see Lions players turn out for other provinces on a strange loan format. I do hope that the Lions can survive this crazy year as I can see it being a situation where eventually we’ll have the Southern Kings joining the Super Rugby series permanently. We can only hope, because the current situation leaves SARU looking slightly foolish. I feel sorry for both Unions though; these things could’ve and should’ve been handled better.
What has been good has been the Currie Cup! Unpredictable with everyone looking like possible champions – expect perhaps a very disappointing Blue Bulls side who somehow managed to make the semis. My concern with the Currie Cup is that with how much rugby is currently being played. This will likely lead to the 125 year old historic event being seen as more of a secondary tournament to everything else, which is a big shame for South African rugby.
It was a great finale though, with two players stealing the show, Patrick Lambie and Juan de Jongh, two players wasted on the bench for the Springboks. Looking at the team for the end of year tours there are a lot more positives, but hopefully the team isn’t just fodder to appease the public and media.
Another massive concern is how much the EP Kings were dominated in the Currie Cup play offs against the Cheetah’s. If this is what is to be expected by the Kings in Super Rugby they will definitely have a massive struggle on their hands.
Where we find ourselves now is what next for local Rugby? Super Rugby shows we love the sport, but we can’t have Rugby players trying to play the amount of games we see footballers play. It just isn’t possible. Maybe a Super Rugby season with the Currie Cup as a ‘feeder’ series does make the most sense? It’s unfortunate but very possible step to take.