Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get differing opinions on who is to blame for the wasted tweets, pages and television coverage of The Spear. Some blame the ANC for fanning the flames of a smokescreen to divert attention from another corruption scandal and/or polarising tactics ahead of Mangaung. Others simply point to a degrading attempt at art by an insensitive white guy.
But, dear readers, I put it to you that real mastermind behind this whole affair was neither of the two. The perpetrator of this all-consuming fiasco, the Professor Moriarty of monumental evil genius, if you will, is none other than Heyneke Meyer.
I am convinced this case of subterfuge was Meyer’s attempt at diverting public attention as he assembled the Springboks ahead of the incoming tour by England. Meyer hoped we’d be so consumed by the presidential penis that we wouldn’t notice his attempts to pick his entire Blue Bulls brethren in the starting and coaching line-up for the team.
Meyer did well to conceive an incident that dominated every bit of media coverage for two weeks, but didn’t count on it being so ravenous of attention that we’d be begging for anything else remotely newsworthy on which to focus. And when South Africans tire of ANC politicking, we often turn to sport - rugby in particular – for comfort.
With a host of local derbies dominating the closing stages of the Super Rugby competition ahead of the Springbok squad announcement, Meyer’s cunning plan backfired as the entire rugby-watching public tuned in to see his beloved Blue Bulls lose at Loftus and a Springbok squad announcement that dropped more jaws than Malema’s support of City Press and artistic freedom of expression.
The appointment of the Bok coach and his assistants has been a merry-go-round of uncertainty and incompetency, pretty much what we’ve come to expect of Saru or any other sporting governing body in South Africa. For example, Meyer was appointed a full six months after his All Blacks counterpart, precious planning time arbitrarily wasted by red tape and ineptitude. Meyer then took a further two months to raid the coaching coffers of the Blue Bulls for his assistants instead of seeking international- calibre candidates, preferably of New Zealand stock. If alarm bells were ringing then, we should have been heading for the bomb shelters when Meyer attempted to coax Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez back into the Springbok fold.
In taking over a successful Springbok team, the best thing any coach can do is make the transition as smooth as possible by keeping the majority of squad incumbents when returning to international duty. Peter de Villiers inherited a World Cup winning squad and reaped early rewards from a team that knew how to play together and win together. Barring a bungling and cheating Kiwi referee, Meyer should have also inherited a World Cup winning squad. Nonetheless, the Boks arguably played the best rugby at the World Cup and, besides replacing a few retirees and injured stalwarts, there really wasn’t much tinkering required.
But provincialism has always been a niggling cancer of South African rugby. It stems from the days of international isolation, when Currie Cup matches were all we had and Western Province vs Northern Transvaal matches took on test-match proportions. It bred an intense rivalry that often bordered on hatred. On the plus side it makes for the most intense domestic competition in the world, but on the minus side it can work to the detriment of the national team. This mentality has no place in the professional era, where the interests of the national team need to come first, but in Meyer we seem to have regressed to the thinking of old.
In countering the charge of provincial bias in his selection policy, Meyer will point to the fact that the Bulls’ 13 squad members only outnumber the Sharks by a solitary player. But that isn’t the small print in the charge of provincialism. Where Meyer has faulted is his selection of average or inexperienced Blue Bulls players over those with international game-time on their CVs.
Stormers fans will feel the most aggrieved at Meyer’s snubbing of the South African team which has lost only two matches this Super Rugby season. With just three players in the 32-man squad, neutral rugby fans must be scratching their heads at what is required to make Meyer’s squad. Well, firstly plying your trade in a pink jersey seems to help, followed closely by playing oxwagon- mentality rugby, it would seem.
England must be covertly high-fiving themselves at the prospect of not having to contend with Heinrich Brüssouw’s pilfering ways or Gio Aplon’s sniping angled runs at pace. It didn’t help Meyer’s cause either when exciting Stormers youngster Siya Kolisi was overlooked after owning the Blue Bulls in a man-of-the-match performance in front of packed Loftus, just minutes before the squad announcement. Instead we are likely to see a starting Bok team dominated by players north of the Jukskei, some of whose names are only mentioned in international matches while team sheets are being read out. We are facing the prospect of an 8-9-10-11-12 axis of Blue Bulls that will have us thinking someone hit the slow-motion button on our PVRs.
In a previous column, I wrote of my fears that Meyer was making all the wrong noises and choices since his appointment. Some of these fears are now materialising on paper. With our tendency as a rugby nation to seriously underestimate Northern Hemisphere teams, we go into the first test against England under a selection cloud and a new squad that has less than a week together to formulate a victory over those whose skins are paler than their jerseys.
I sincerely hope I get to eat my words and the depth of South African rugby prevails, but right now I’m preparing my emotions for a first Test loss to the English and the prospect of painting a “Bring Back Snor” placard. DM
Springbok 32-man squad for June Test series:
Bjorn Basson, Jean de Villiers, JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Wynand Olivier, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Morne Steyn, Jano Vermaak.
Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Ryan Kankowski, Juandre Kruger, Werner Kruger, Beast Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Jacques Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Pierre Spies, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, Franco van der Merwe.
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