Invest in the best

The midweek Boks paid the price for Peter de Villiers’s selection policy, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day column.

Why the shock that a Leicester mix and match XV should so embarrass a South African Vodacom Cup XV parading as the Springboks?

The selections were terrible, as they were when the Springbok selectors looked to the future in the third and final Test against the British & Irish Lions and were similarly embarrassed.

At times too much is made of the future, and this is one of those times. Let’s focus on what happens in 2009 before wondering how our rugby will be in 2012, let alone the 2011 World Cup year.

The best players in the Currie Cup were not selected for the midweek side’s two matches in England. Coach Peter de Villiers wanted to make a statement about transformation and also about the fact that the provincial coaches are getting it wrong and he is getting it right. On both counts he failed, although to blame him for the defeat is wrong, as he had nothing to do with the coaching of the team, if you can call three sessions coaching the team.

Touring teams always struggle in the first fortnight of a tour and that is why so many of the success stories on end of year tours relate to national coaches investing in those who have succeeded as a unit in the domestic season. That way a national coach does not have to reinvent the wheel and does not have to try and teach players a specific approach in two or three training runs. The national coach trusts that he can tweak a provincial formula that has been successful and invests in the familiarity players get when they have functioned in a unit for the last six months.

De Villiers and his selectors did neither and paid the price for holding a trial game to assess how good the reserve depth is, which in itself was ridiculous because Leicester, by way of England commitments, another league match on Sunday and injuries, played without 12 first team regulars. For these imposter Boks to have lost to the best Leicester has on contract would not be a surprise, but to have been bullied and outthought by a couple of former All Blacks, a few other imports and mostly an Academy team is humiliating.

The Bok scrum disintegrated and hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle’s reputation took as big a beating. Ralepelle was supposed to be one of the new generation of South African player who would only be judged on ability because he was that good as a 19 year-old, but political agendas have again turned a quality talent into a professional quota. It is sickening.

Ralepelle should not have been on tour and belatedly Adriaan Strauss and Wian du Preez of the Cheetahs have been summoned to England to replace Ralepelle and Gurthro Steenkamp.

What does the Leicester defeat say about the depth of player outside the marvelous Bok Test XV that has dominated world rugby for the past few years? It says nothing because what we saw was not the next best on show. You could have picked any one of the Currie Cup semi-finalists as a unit and they would have thumped what Leicester put out as a team. Why is it that so often the Springbok midweek team does not reflect the best fringe players? It is not just something unique to the current coach and his selectors. We’ve seen this horror movie so many times.

If a national coach wants to take an Emerging team abroad then do so, but don’t call them the Springboks because Leicester, as an example, now have the famous Springbok head as a scalp in the clubhouse. It should never have been so.

The defeat does not influence anything in relation to Friday evening’s Test against France because the real Springboks will be playing in Toulouse, although the depth test here is more accurate because what will be answered is if the Boks have the same fluidity, stability and direction without Frans Steyn’s boot at the back, Jean de Villiers’s organization in the midfield and the power of Juan Smith and Pierre Spies in the back row.

This will be the Springboks’ toughest test of the year and to win they will have to play as well or better than at any stage this season. France are the best of the northern hemisphere teams and playing in Toulouse on a Friday night certainly gives the a greater advantage than the neutrality so often experienced at the Stade de France in St Denis, just outside Paris.

The Boks love that ground, but they’ve never played in Toulouse, which makes the decision to arrive in Toulouse 36 hours before kick-off even more of a risk.