Nothing super about SA rugby

It might be a surprise that Jean de Villiers will captain the Springboks in a non-Test match this weekend, but not that South African rugby is still trying to drag itself out of the gutter.

Last week, two of the biggest problems bit the dust: the president and his love child, the ill-conceived, over-hyped, over-funded and under-performing band-aid for rugby’s development problems. The Southern Spears, the bastard child of Brian W van Rooyen’s troubled reign as SA Rugby’s president, were officially kicked out of the Currie Cup.

It was confirmation of what everyone knew all along—they weren’t ready, the concept wasn’t thought out well enough and the proposed automatic promotion to next year’s Super 14 would have been even more of a disaster than this year’s poor showing. R4,6-million wasted on what rugby commentators said from the beginning was a bad idea.

After the inquiry into his alleged corporate mismanagement of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) last week, Van Rooyen, who oddly sent out a press statement last week in which he spoke about himself in the third person, claimed the old guard was trying to get back into power.
He has clearly missed the point. The efficient and competent are trying to straighten out the mess he left behind.

Indeed, while South Africa lamented missed opportunities in the Super 14 and injuries to crucial players ahead of the international season, New Zealand celebrated another strong year with two teams in the inaugural competition’s final.

South African rugby is mired in the same pea soup that the Super 14 final was played in—a murky world of strange happenings and promises that will forever be Van Rooyen’s bequest.

Notwithstanding how he attempted to take credit for Jake White’s successes, the legacy of Van Rooyen’s time in office will always be this tangled legal mess—disputed and convoluted arrangements that might technically appear correct but make the public’s bullshit detector clang.

Why on earth are the Springboks playing the All Blacks at the Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg? Has a Test ever been played there before? What are the facilities like? The Bokke might as well be playing in Christchurch. So much for home advantage.

I’d love Van Rooyen to explain how one of the smallest unions managed to get one of the most important matches where our own side is now at a disadvantage? No kickback for voting? Surely not.

When the top players desperately needed a rest last year, where was Van Rooyen in protecting his organisation’s most precious commodity?

White, sports scientist Tim Noakes and almost everyone else warned SA Rugby of the consequences that we have seen played out at the Bloemfontein training camp in the past three weeks. Pierre Spies, the 21-year-old newcomer, is fitter, stronger and healthier than Schalk Burger or Joe van Niekerk—the two players most often compared with new All Black captain Richie McCaw. They are shadows of their illustrious selves because of over play.

It might not be a bad thing. For all of White’s emphasis on continuity, it was only the “resting” of key players last year that cemented De Villiers and Jaque Fourie in the midfield, where the hopelessly out of form De Wet Barry and Marius Joubert were guaranteed their place by White’s misguided loyalty.

As wily and foresightful as the Bok coach is, he needs to be wary of how a sense of almost automatic selection makes players lazy and sloppy. Why did the Stormers’ illustrious backline fail to fire for an entire season? Many of them knew they would be back in the Springbok side, where White would nurse their tired legs and fragile self-confidence.

Hopefully this weekend the mostly second-string side will restore some confidence to a team that is again being criticised for being too white. As new Saru president Oregan Hoskins defended the coach’s selections, it might be remembered that White has been done no favours by the Super 14 and provincial coaches who do not pick their own black players consistently to give them enough experience to take the step up to Test level.

As for Van Rooyen, there needs to be a reckoning. Too often coaches and their bosses have left with no accountability for their actions. Louis Luyt, Rudolf Straeuli and Rian Oberholzer may have been heaped with public scorn but their mistakes were perpetuated by those who followed, sure that a big payout was coming. Van Rooyen’s unintended legacy may be the accountability that he never displayed in office.

If he is indeed expelled from rugby, it will be a decent solution—and we can hopefully be done with our last megalomaniac president. Goodbye Brian W van Rooyen.

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