The last performance we saw from the Springboks was a poignant moment for not only South Africa fans, but for rugby fans the world over. What once was the biggest rivalry in world rugby is now no more. Regardless of who one may support when it comes to Test match teams, a weak Springbok team is something that leaves the game in a worse place. Though it is easy to point a finger at the players and the coaching staff, this decline did not just happen overnight. Instead, it is due to several factors that have been spreading a negative effect throughout the entire system. This culminated in the miserable 57-0 defeat by the All Blacks. Here are five factors we have identified that have ruined South African rugby.
The selection process
The Springbok coaching job has got to be the most difficult one out there. Not only is there plenty of history to safeguard and protect, there is also a huge expectation from a passionate fan base and constant scrutiny from media. Then there is also the unique dilemma of the coach not always being able to select who he wants. The transformation policy is a debatable process, but if it must be implemented then it must be done so correctly. For transformation to be effective it must be implemented at the lower reaches of the game so that the access to proper coaching and select side opportunities are achieved while players are still young and developing. This will ensure a longer lasting and more positive effect than just trying to shoehorn in the policy at the upper end of the game. At this point, the damage has already been done and players who are better and more equipped to play internationally end up losing out on their place unfairly and through no fault of their own.
Too much talent is leaving South Africa. There are so many talented players plying their trade elsewhere and this – as you can imagine – only serves to weaken the standard of rugby in the country. This results in competitions like the Currie Cup and SuperSport Rugby Challenge not being the ultra-competitive proving grounds they should be and once were. Top-tier talent such as Marcell Coetzee, Johan Goosen, Pat Lambie, Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis are household names that would be in any Springboks side. In addition, players such James Verity-Amm, Mees Erasmus, Wes Goosen and Reggie Goodes are just a handful of South Africans who have made their mark elsewhere. These players are thriving, but it does the national side no good as they are thriving in foreign lands. The Sharks are the only team that is grasping the importance of luring back young and talented players. It is no surprise that they are unbeaten in the Currie Cup this season.
Poor development of coaches
One thing the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has done extremely well is place a huge emphasis on training their coaches at every level and actively facilitating the development of these coaches. It is not by coincidence that Joe Schmidt, Vern Cotter, Warren Gatland, and Pat Lam, to name but a few, have done exceptionally well after they moved to the Northern Hemisphere. The development of coaches is a big part of what makes New Zealand so good and their coaches develop and gain experience through mandated work. Jamie Joseph is a great example of a coach who has worked his way up from the bottom tier. He was initially a coach at Wellington, before coaching the Maori All Blacks, then to the Highlanders and now Japan. Scott Robertson is another coach whose development has been fast-tracked after he showed promise. There is a conveyor belt of quality coaches coming out of New Zealand and South Africa needs to emulate this strategy. This will allow their players to get quality coaching all the way throughout their careers.
No obvious identity
Back when the Springboks were a dominant force they had an identity in terms of their style of play and how they would implement it. With the current crop of players, there seems to be a schizophrenia of sorts. They seem to not really know how they want to play. The players are always in two minds as to what action to take in any given phase of the game. This stems from a lack of cohesion at the top of the union. The principles required to form a fully functioning unit at Test match level – where players are coming from different provinces but seem to jell together almost seamlessly have to be agreed upon at the top level. This means that at all the provinces’ players are developing the skill set required to fit into that style. This still allows each province has their own nuances that define them, but there is a general framework that players are familiar with for Test match level rugby. South Africa doesn’t seem to have this framework.
Development of talent
Succession planning is crucial at international level. It is a process which the Springboks haven’t got right. So often you hear people wax lyrical about how young players seem to slot in and look as if they have 50 test caps under their belt. No team in the world does this as well as the All Blacks. Their laudable depth is not just a coincidence, it is a by-product of precise and measured planning. Having looked at what happened when Tendai Mtawarira came off against New Zealand, one can’t help but wonder what would happen if more front-line players were fatigued or injured. Already the lack of depth at scrum half, in the midfield, and on the wings is alarming. The Springboks need to get this right and they need to do so quickly if they are to compete and push the best of the best at the highest level.
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