Right now, South African rugby is in the doldrums – the Super Rugby defending champions are being kicked around like a ragdoll, the Stormers have just lost their first game of the season and the Lions and Cheetahs fill the bottom two places on the log. And, the Sharks, the only local side to win at the weekend, went into their game on the back of three defeats.
It’s not pretty reading for the South African teams, but this competition is so long that there is time for all of them to right their wrongs and still make an impact in 2011.
The real concern, however, is not so much the form of the teams themselves, but the individuals in them. And not just any individuals, Springboks with years of experience, players who’ve been around the block, won the Super Rugby competition, men who Bok boss Peter de Villiers is banking on to lead the team in New Zealand later this year.
While the World Cup may still be five months away, the problem is that the dip in standard is something that’s been around for a little longer than just this year.
Several senior Boks have been playing poorly for over a year now – as illustrated in the Springboks’ poor Tri-Nations campaign last year – but the national coaching team, and even some Super Rugby coaches, have continued to back players on historic form, saying class is permanent, and form is temporary. Well, I’ll ask you this: Would you prefer to see a Bok team with form players in it take on the All Blacks, or a team with out of form players who were at their best four years ago? The answer is simple.
And, one’s further got to ask: For how long, and at what cost, should a coach continue to back a player based on his past successes when he continues to perform below standard right now?
There should be no sentiment in sport. It is a tough, gruelling world where only the very best get to the top and no person, no matter what they’ve achieved in the past, has a right to play or be picked for a team. It should be earned and deserved.
If a Springbok team were to be selected right now for a Test next weekend, how many of the players who have worn the green and gold over the last few years would actually make the side on pure merit? Not many, and that’s the dilemma facing Peter de Villiers: too many of his senior Bok stars are past their best for September’s trip to New Zealand. - The Star