South African rugby needs more senior players involved in the game, according to Jake White.
The Springbok coach has often emphasised the importance of collecting Test caps ahead of the World Cup, but he also believes a team needs players who are nearing, or just past, their 30th birthdays.
“We should be sitting with at least 20 players of senior position in our franchises that can help the juniors come through at Super 14 and Currie Cup level. If you look at our teams, we don’t have too many elder and wiser guys looking after the youngsters,” White said.
The Sharks are perhaps the one exception, having brought in Percy Montgomery, Johan Ackermann and Tony Brown for the Super 14 this season. All three are on the other side of 30.
“The Sharks signed these players, and the benefits were obvious,” said White. “When you have these guys in the side, the fact that a youngster like JP Pietersen is playing in the team at this level is unimportant, because he gets looked after by the older guys. That is something I have always pushed when I got the job of national coach.”
White’s point stems from the fact that at the highest level, South Africa has a very young side. The average age for the team is 24.
“I was speaking to Balie Swart this morning, and we were talking about the team that won the World Cup. Balie was over 30, Kobus Wiese was over 30, Andre Joubert was over 30… Ruben Kruger was the baby of the side and he was about 26. What we tend to neglect is that the group of players that we have now is on average 23 or 24. We need to look at how we are going to keep them together until they are 28, 29 or 30 years old.”
An answer to why there are less older players available for selection could be that they tend to go overseas when an international position seems unlikely. White has been successful in bringing the oldies back from Europe (Montgomery, Snyman, Paulse), but it will be an enormous challenge to keep senior players involved in the Currie Cup.
By Jon Cardinelli