Provincial over national – the SA way

Keo, in his News24 column writes that childish decision-making among South Africa’s rugby bosses continues to stifle any progress.

Weak national leadership has also once again suffocated the Boks’ 2007 World Cup challenge.

South African rugby was summed up this week in the decisions following the debate as to who should and should not play in the remainder of the Currie Cup. The inability to compromise and the reluctance to embrace the immediate situation meant that everyone lost.

Jake White now has a national camp and he has to work with players he knows he won’t take on the end of year tour or to next year’s World Cup. He has to do this because these players have national contracts. Other players, new to the national side but not nationally contracted, are off limits to any national workshops in the next two months.

The provinces want to get rid of those out of form national players and palm them off to the national coach because it means the national governing body pays their salary for the next two months. What a few months ago was a discussion that would supposedly benefit the national equation now only gives comfort to the unions.

Those players who made their test debuts this season, but have played in most test matches still have to play Currie Cup rugby. The province gains and the Springboks’ World Cup campaign suffers.

The situation reached the ridiculous this week when it was argued that Western Province had an unfair advantage if De Wet Barry, Hanyani Shimange and Eddie Andrews were released for Currie Cup duty, but Victor Matfield and company were not. The three Western Province players have lost their places in the national squad and have struggled to make the starting XV at their unions.

Common sense failed to triumph in the latest discussions. National teams’ general manager Andy Marinos was a desperate man, totally dumbfounded by the inability of the provinces to be rational. The provinces were non-plussed. They had agreed to a formula that the 24 nationally-contracted players would not play in the Currie Cup and that is the way it would remain. They now wanted their financial compensation.

It highlighted why South African rugby will always be in trouble. Provinces determine the national well-being when it should be the other way around.

New Zealand, a day after completing their Tri Nations schedule, released a list detailing exactly when each one of their national squad of 30 would return to domestic rugby. For some it was one week. For others it would be in five weeks.

A week after that the national coach released a list of 22 players who would not play in the first seven matches of the Super 14. The regions unanimously backed the move. Robbie Deans, coach of the champion Crusaders and the hardest hit by the absentee of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, applauded the decision, arguing it was in the best interests of the All Blacks. He said it would also provide a new generation of player with exposure to Super rugby.

New Zealand rugby boss Jock Hobbs was defiant when questioned about the absence of 22 All Blacks from the Super 14. He said that New Zealand would still dominate the competition. He had full confidence in the other talent.

When NewsCorp threatened legal action and financial compensation, Hobbs told them to bring it on. The New Zealand Rugby Union is doing everything to give the All Blacks the best possible chance of winning the World Cup.

In South Africa everything is being done to trip up the Boks. Jake White has been guilty of too many implosions this year, but it does not mean that those around him have to do the same thing.

White needs common sense to be the unifying factor in South African rugby, but the decisions around the Boks are being made for the wrong reasons.

The Currie Cup coaches and CEO’s won’t budge because it does not suit them. Forget the national relevance. Even SARU president Oregan Hoskins has motivated the decision of not withdrawing national squad players from next year’s Super 14 on the basis that South Africa did not want to upset the broadcaster.

Who gives a toss about the broadcaster in this instance? The broadcaster has never cared about the needs of the player or any specific World Cup campaign. This week showcased the weak leadership of South African rugby.

It was a week that demanded the right decisions be made for the right reasons, which is the 2007 World Cup. The situation demanded healthy confrontation and a decisive hand to be played by the SARU president.

It never happened.

There was a definite lack of confrontation and all that was confirmed was that the rugby leadership in this country stills values a Currie Cup campaign more than a World Cup campaign.

It highlights the insular mess that is South African rugby.

In the next month Pierre Spies will play for the Bulls, while De Wet Barry will be getting French lessons for a trip he is unlikely to make. And the guys who make these decisions then go cap in hand to the public and sponsors for emotional and financial support of the national team.

It’s bloody ridiculous and darn right shameful.