JON CARDINELLI writes that the decision to include or exclude Springboks in the Currie Cup should be made in the national team’s best interests.
Welcome to South Africa, where the provincial tail wags the Test dog.
For too long Super Rugby franchises have been permitted to run their Test players into the ground before the Test season has even commenced. And for too long, those players have been forced to play in the final rounds of the Currie Cup.
Last week, Heyneke Meyer admitted that New Zealand has got it right in terms of player management. He didn’t go so far as to say South Africa is getting it wrong, as a statement like that may have been constituted as a slur against his employers.
But then he didn’t have to. Those of us with eyes and ears will know that the current system is geared towards ensuring the success of the provinces rather than that of the national team.
Right now we should be talking about which Springboks should play in the Currie Cup, and which players should rest ahead of the European tour. It should never be a case of the provinces forcing every one of their Test stars to compete at this stage of the season.
It’s true that the provinces have ambitions to win titles, but those ambitions should be considered secondary to the sustained success of the Springboks.
I’m not talking about dealing in absolutes. It does nobody any good to say that every Bok must play Currie Cup rugby, or that every Bok player must be excused.
There are players returning from injury who desperately need the game time, as well as the bit-part players who haven’t featured much in the Rugby Championship who could use the opportunity to sharpen their game.
Jaco Taute started the last two Tests, but would still benefit from an extended run at outside centre for the Lions. Taute’s inexperience in this channel has been clear over the last two matches, and he needs to come to terms with his defensive responsibilities if he is going to feature there for the Boks in November.
Some say that the returning Boks should have to prove themselves before replacing an existing Currie Cup player. What nonsense.
The Currie Cup is the lower tier, it’s an opportunity for younger and less experienced players to prove themselves ahead of the Super Rugby season. It should also provide top players returning from injury with a chance to regain their fitness or sharpen their game ahead of the Boks’ end-of-year-tour.
JP Pietersen is sure to benefit from an extended run with the Sharks. The Bok wing injured his thumb ahead of the Rugby Championship, but has since returned to action in the Currie Cup. Come the Tests in November, he won’t be wanting for game time.
Tiaan Liebenberg, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandre Kruger, Juan de Jongh, and Pat Lambie have been used sparingly in the recent Sanzar tournament. They too will gain much from a run in the Currie Cup.
Of course, there are those that will be forced to play for overseas clubs in the coming weeks, and that is something that Saru cannot change. Francois Louw and Ruan Pienaar have made some valuable contributions to the Boks this year, and Meyer will be hoping like hell that the pair avoids injury before the Test window reopens in November.
But there are Boks currently in South Africa who shouldn’t be pushed to play. It was reported on Monday Jean de Villiers was nursing two injuries, and that Western Province were still confident that he would feature in their last league match. Why, oh why, should he even be considered?
De Villiers has enjoyed a relatively injury-free 2012, and this has led to him playing the majority of the Super Rugby matches and in all of the Boks’ nine Tests. Why should he be risked in a Currie Cup game when he still has an important role to play on the end-of-year tour? With all the injuries that have plagued the Boks this season, they could ill afford to lose their captain before a tour that is important in terms of results.
I’m not suggesting that WP are to blame. It is the system that is it fault, as when you have a system that allows for the overuse of players at provincial level, then which province is not going to take advantage? ‘Everybody’s doing it, so why shouldn’t we?’ is the mentality. Indeed, why should WP rest De Villiers when, for example, the Sharks are pushing Willem Alberts to play?
The provinces have a title to win, and that is their mandate. It’s the wrong way to look at things, but then they are only operating within the framework that Saru has provided.
And until Saru gets its priorities right and implements a central contracting system that will prioritise players over provinces, Bok coaches like Meyer will always be operating with depleted national teams.