Patience and purpose key for Ralepelle

The Springboks can take a lesson from the Proteas’ management of JP Duminy when plotting the path of Chiliboy Ralepelle.

Ralepelle, 21, is likely to be included in the Springboks’ run-on side for the third Test at Ellis Park. It would be his first start on the tour.

His selection is at the same time perplexing and understandable. The former because the Springboks have an opportunity to whitewash the Lions, and should be playing their strongest side, with Bismarck du Plessis at hooker. The latter because a rest prior to the start of the Tri-Nations would benefit Du Plessis, who started the majority of the Sharks’ Super 14 matches and played 80 minutes in both Tests against the Lions.

With John Smit committed to specialising at tighthead prop, Ralepelle – depending on form and injury – is likely to be included in the Springboks’ match 22 for the foreseeable future. However, after limited game time in just three Tests, no judgement on Ralepelle’s aptitude for Test rugby can be absolute.

He certainly hasn’t built a rock solid case for elevation to Test level with his performances in the Super 14. He has yet to oust Derick Kuun at the Bulls, and hasn’t looked like it either, with the Bulls preferring Kuun for all their major matches.

To question Ralepelle’s talent, however, would be foolish. While he hasn’t be able to command a place in the Bulls’ starting line-up, he certainly hasn’t let them down when he’s been introduced off the wood.

If it’s De Villiers’ belief that he has the aptitude for Test rugby, he has to play him. He has inadvertently made a statement about his estimation of Ralepelle’s ability to cope under pressure by not bringing him on at Loftus, and not selecting him at King’s Park. Alternatively, De Villiers could take a lesson from the Proteas’ management of Duminy.

The left-hand batsman was prolific as a youngster for Western Province, but in retrospect he and the team management have admitted that he was introduced to international cricket too early. He was dropped for near on four years after his ODI debut, but importantly was kept in the system where he worked closely with the Proteas’ key batsmen. He always knew where he stood in terms of their planning because the management were nothing but honest with him.

Duminy’s introduction to the Test squad in Melbourne came as a result of an injury to Ashwell Prince, and was premature in terms of the Proteas’ management’s vision for him. But his match-winning 166 was not only decisive in the context of the series, it also spoke volumes about the value of patience and honesty in the management and development of young talented players.

Duminy proceeded to enjoy a successful season, and now seems to have cemented his place in the Test squad for the foreseeable future. Nobody questioned his inclusion because they realise that he has served his apprenticeship and earned his spot the hard way. The right way.

The Springboks should take a lesson from that in their management of Ralepelle. If they’re not going to trust him to play the big Tests now, they have to be honest and purposeful in their dealings with him.

Plot a clear plan for the player they believe is talented enough to succeed at Test level, and keep him in the Springbok mix for a predetermined period of time to learn from the senior Springboks. Then introduce him at a time they feel comfortable that he can front in the biggest Tests – not be thrown into the mix for dead rubbers and B-grade non events.

That way there can be no suggestion of tokenism, the player benefits immensely and the Springbok management’s credibility rises exponentially.

By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg