Finding the lost generation

Keo, in his News24 Column, writes that there is a South African team of players overseas that would strengthen our rugby.

It is time to put a system in place that lures these players back and ensures our players in their late 20s don’t do a runner.

In chatting to Bok coach Jake White earlier in the week, he raised the point that we, in South African rugby, have an obsession with younger players, to the detriment of quality older players.

He said it was vital to show the player in his late 20s that he had a future in South African rugby, not necessarily at Test level but in the Super 14.

White argued that the depth of South African rugby was being challenged by the ease with which SA players packed their bags and left when they believed they could not make the national team. He believes it is because there is no succession plan at provincial or regional level.

White, who many thought would discard all that was old for Under-21 players when he became Bok coach, said South Africa’s success at national and Super 14 level would be measured by an ability to marry old and new.

He did so with his Bok team, bringing back a veteran like Percy Montgomery and introducing some of the best Under-21 players.

The Bok coach continues to look at experienced overseas-based SA players and won’t hesitate to pick them if their form warrants it. He is already talking of bringing back Shaun Sowerby and has confirmed he has offered Andre Snyman a contract.

But it is not with the Bok squad where the focus should be. Just like New Zealand felt the drain of their players to Japan and Europe in the Super 12 a couple of years ago, South Africa is feeling it in the Super 14.

While our teams languish near the bottom of the table, having again introduced a new crop of youngsters, the older campaigners continue to impress for foreign clubs.

White, to add substance to his theory, challenged me to pick a starting XV from overseas of players who were still eligible to play for the Boks, but more importantly who would be of great value in the Super 14.

So here goes

This is a team I’d back to be as competitive as any of the current SA franchises.

15. Thinus Delport (Worcester), 14. Shaun Payne (Munster), 13. Andre Snyman (Leeds), 12. Trevor Halstead (Munster), 11. Breyton Paulse (Clermont), 10. Jaco van der Westhuyzen (Japan), 9. Norman Jordaan (France), 8. Shaun Sowerby (Stade Francais), 7. Warren Brosnihan (Calvisano), 6. Jake Boer (Gloucester), 5. Selborne Boome (until recently Northampton), 4. Hottie Louw (Llanelli), 3. Cobus Visagie (Saracens), 2. Danie Coetzee (London Irish), 1. Daan Human (Toulouse).

Even more disconcerting is how many South African players have gone onto play international rugby for other countries in the last five years.

Here’s some of the names: Stuart Abbott (England), Geoff Appleford (England), Matt Stevens (England), Michael Horak (England), Clyde Rathbone (Australia), Dan Vickerman (Australia), Carlo del Fava (Italy), Roland de Marigny (Italy), Gert Peens (Italy), Pieter de Villiers (France), Brian Liebenberg (France), Stephen Hall (France), Hal Luscombe (Wales) and Roland Reid (Scotland)

You take the above 13 players, add them to the overseas-based XV selected and you have 28 players not available to South Africa’s Super 14 challenge.

That’s a squad on its own. Further to that take the other 25 players with Super 12 experience who are playing overseas and you have 45 players we’ve lost in the last five years.

No matter how good your youth systems and no matter how much natural talent produced, South Africa cannot afford to lose 45 players and still believe they can field five competitive regional franchises in Super 14.

It is time we looked at what we’ve lost, instead of always focusing on what we can gain from the younger generation. There is a lost generation excelling in Europe and many of them should be excelling in South Africa.