This month the nation shows some nerves going into the World Cup, the transformation row rumbles on and Fourie du Preez says he's on the wane
SPRINGBOKS TURN TO VETERANS FOR RWC
Coach Heyneke Meyer, as expected, has turned to a core of 2007 World Cup winners for the 2015 campaign. The squad boasted 1297 Test caps going in to the tournament. They have 14 players over the age of 30, but they also have nine under the age of 25. The Boks’ average age is therefore 28.2, which is exactly the same as the All Blacks.
New Zealand incidentally goes into the World Cup with 14 winners from 2011 and a total of 1484 test caps. The Bok survivors from 2007 are: Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen and Jean de Villiers (although he was injured in game one of 2007 and never played in the final).
TRANSFORMATION STILL A HOT TOPIC AS BOKS DEPART
South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins took the unusual step of raising his head above the parapet on the issue of transformation in a damning open letter to critics. The Boks have been hammered in parts of the media because only eight black players were included in the RWC squad of 31. Hoskins, who wrote his recent MBA thesis on the subject of transformation, went on the offensive.
“Many opinions have been aired over recent weeks and I have listened to them with growing frustration,” Hoskins wrote. “I have been frustrated because the good story we have been telling has been falling on deaf ears; and we do have a good news story to tell. Let us get one thing absolutely clear: Our sport is massively transformed from where it was in 1992.”
Hoskins listed SARU’s ‘achievements’ in transforming rugby and paid particular attention to the Strategic Transformation Plan (STP) that has set a target of 50% black player representation at international and provincial level by 2019.
“All anyone was interested in was the fact that there were eight black players in a squad of 31 when 84% of the under-18 population is black African,” Hoskins continued. “It makes no sense does it? Well here’s some more statistics for you. In our most populace province of KZN, 97% of schoolboys NEVER play rugby. And the proportion is the same in Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga – four of our biggest provinces where only 3% of boys have access to rugby at school.
“It’s hardly any better in Gauteng, Free State, the Northern Cape and even the Eastern Cape where around 85% of boys NEVER have access to rugby at school. And if you don’t start at school you will never become a Springbok. Only in the Western Cape – where 46% of schools play rugby – can the game really be called a ‘national sport’.
“Only about 10% of schoolboys ever see a rugby ball at primary school and by the time we get to high school that rugby playing population has dwindled to a fraction at the 1st XV level. It is from that tiny subset of potential players that Springboks emerge.”
The debate continues.
DU PREEZ ADMITS HE’S NOT THE PLAYER HE WAS
Scrum-half Fourie du Preez is one of the greatest halfbacks to have played the game. He’s a superb tactician with a wonderful kicking game but he admits injury and age have robbed him of some of his brilliance.
“I’d love to say I’m much better than I was in 2007 and 2011 but if I’m honest, I’m probably not,” Du Preez said at the announcement of the RWC squad. I’ve learned a lot and I will make better decisions, and in that sense I will be more effective for the team. But unfortunately age and injuries have been a factor and the last two injuries have set me back physically. But I’m still confident I can deliver. It’s been a tough 18 months for me since injuring my ankle last June. Everything was going to plan and then there was a freak accident at training (he tore medial collateral knee ligaments in June). Currently I’m not 100% confident in my physical performance but I should be ready in two weeks and I’m working towards that goal.”
LIONS PURRING AT THE TOP OF CURRIE CUP STANDINGS
The Golden Lions are setting the pace in the Currie Cup with six consecutive wins to start the campaign, including and impressive 36-28 victory over the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. The Lions have also collected five bonus points and are the competition’s leading point’s scorers with 240. They also have the tightest defence with 117 points conceded. The Bulls are still in second, as the Lions defeat was their first of the year, while WP are closing in, in third.
PIENAAR AND SMIT CAUTIOUS ABOUT BOKS’ RWC CHANCES
South Africa’s two RWC winning captains, Francois Pienaar (1995) and John Smit (2007), were cautious about the Boks’ chances of winning RWC 2015. Pienaar was concerned about the long list of injured players – Duane Vermeulen, Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers, JP Pietersen, Jannie du Plessis and Francois Louw – who were chosen without much recent form to go on.
“If you don’t pick players in form, you can’t pray for it and hope players will find it on a Tuesday afternoon when it’s needed,” Pienaar cautioned. “That’s not going to work.” Smit added: “Unfortunately for Heyneke the wrong guys have been injured at the wrong time. No one will have the answer on whether picking players, who aren’t fully fit, was the right call until afterwards.
“Jake White took a gamble on me when I tore my hamstring against Australia just before the 2007 World Cup. I was in trouble. I couldn’t even jog in the days leading up to the tournament. I strapped it tight and by the time of the final I didn’t need to strap it. Those are the risks that a coach might have to take sometimes. Sometimes they work out.
“If this Bok team wins the 2015 World Cup, it will be South Africa’s greatest World Cup victory because the road is the toughest.”
WESTERN PROVINCE U21 PLAYER SUFFERS CARDIAC ARREST
WP under-21 hooker Daniel du Plessis suffered cardiac arrest just four minutes after taking the field in a match against the Leopards at Newlands this month. Paramedics managed to resuscitate the player on the field but eyewitnesses say he kept ‘flat-lining’ and was only saved by the persistence of the medical staff on hand.
He is out of intensive care but still had a long recovery period ahead of him. He apparently suffered ‘sudden cardiac syndrome’ a condition that is almost impossible to detect. It rekindled terrible memories of Ireland under-19 player John McCall, who died in Durban in 2004 from the same condition.