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The politics of change

Coming back from Sekhukuneland earlier this week I was surprised at how much things in South African rugby have changed.

The Springboks are riding the crest of a wave after a thorough dismantling of a lethargic French side in Port Elizabeth last weekend. The reason for the woeful dip in French form compared to the first Test is unclear, but one could rightly argue that French complacency, Springbok dominance up-front and a blistering performance from Ricky Januarie all played their part in securing the series for South Africa.

I thought the Boks played decently, used their chances well and maintained solid pressure on the French halfbacks. Their finishing was good and they certainly didn’t back down when France started with the dirty stuff. A good showing, but certainly not one to pin inflated hopes to.

The Springboks face Australia in Sydney next weekend and have their tails up.

Everyone’s telling everyone in earshot how very chuffed the side is with itself and that confidence is sky-high.

As it very well should be. If the under-21 Boks can give the Aussies the old one-two there’s no reason on earth why anyone can’t.

So it’s off to Oz with a clean slate and high hopes of beating whatever side Eddie Jones decides to throw at us at the Olympic Stadium. Last season the Boks came painfully close to getting the better of Australia at home and hopefully that will also change this season.

As if the Springboks’ series win was not enough, Jake White will, happily, be in charge of Springbok rugby until after the 2007 World Cup in France. Before being handed the keys to the city he did have to threaten to resign, however.

Whether or not this actually transpired is open to discussion as both White, Brian van Rooyen and other SA Rugby Union (Saru) members denied that there was ever cause for alarm.

What is rather worrying is that the ostensibly insignificant domestic dispute arose because of a team selection and transformation issues.

Who exactly told White which players to select for the Springboks remains a mystery as Saru and White have kept mum while dodging the issue with a fine grasp of amateurish spin-doctoring.

They’ve only got the rugby public to bamboozle and we all know what a bunch of twits they are.

Hell, the Springbok coach, it appears, has completely lost his fear of the Transformation Brigade (TB). Solly Tyibilika, Bolla Conradie, Tonderai Chavhanga and Eddie Andrews were all trimmed from the Springbok squad ahead of the first-leg of the Mandela Cup.

A lone white player, lock Gerrie Britz, was also dropped as Bakkies Botha made a welcome return.

The only player among those sacked for the short tour to Australia who might be a little miffed is Tyibilika.

His form has been good and he didn’t do anything wrong in the season-opener against Uruguay, just tough luck, I guess.

Chavhanga’s chances of getting into a first-choice team that sports Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana, with Breyton Paulse as back-up, will always be slim. As for the others, well, form is the bottom line.

What is striking is that White dropped these players shortly after said he would be evacuating his office because of transformation pressure -‒ certainly not the work of a man who suffers from a confidence problem.

White, it would appear, knows what he’s doing — not only as coach, but also when dealing with the peripheral political issues. He has, after all, cemented his tenure as Bok boss while effectively shielding his players from the harmful effects of dirty old infighting.

This is a welcome change from what we’re used to, but the question must be asked: If Saru can lie to us, what’s preventing them from lying to White?

A loss here, a loss there and the knives will come out again.

Change is good — especially if it serves a real purpose, makes us happy, and helps us reach our goals faster. In South African rugby, however, a change in things is more often than not the surest way of keeping them the same.

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