South African rugby: 21 years since readmission
South Africa's Springboks Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Steyn and Heinrich Broussow. AFP PHOTO / Marty Melville
The Ellis Park home crowd waited with anticipation for the kick off on the 15th of August 1992, when the Springboks met New Zealand for their first international encounter since the Apartheid ban.
South African greats such as Danie Gerber, Naas Botha, Uli Schmidt, Wahl Bartmann and a number of other veterans took on a game All Black side.
South Africa had 10 debutants on that fateful day when New Zealand won by 27-24, the narrowest of margins.
The South African public would have taken a lot of confidence out of that performance and would have believed that South African rugby was as strong as ever, until of course the next weekend when the then world champions Australia thrashed the Springboks 26-3 at Newlands.
Perhaps it was an omen that a new world force had risen during the self-inflicted international hiatus.
But 21 years on, has South Africa improved?
Back then provincial rivalry was staunch, understandable as the Currie Cup was the alpha and omega for South African rugby players and public, it ultimately influenced the manner in how selections were made. Internal politics, nepotism and favouritism reigned supreme.
Looking at the record of the Springboks over the past 21 years it makes for complex and contradictory reading.
Two World Cups, three Tri Nations titles, and four Super Rugby trophies does entertain the thought that there were some successes along the way, but when you delve deeper and ignore the win ratio of 63% (including a superior win record over all nations bar the Wallabies and All Blacks) then it seems little has changed.
We still face a system that discourages collective thinking, the Super Rugby franchises rarely do anything for the good of the collective, politicians interfere regarding ‘non-existing’ quotas, administrators behind closed doors make rash decisions with scant regard for the consequences and supporters are rarely being kept in the loop regarding the clandestine workings of the inner circle.
If Dr. Danie Cruyven would be able to come back for a visit, what would his opinion be about where we find ourselves 21 years later?
We still haven’t been able to evolve our game plan, we still believe in the Neanderthalic approach to ball carrying and lo and behold, the kicking fly half is still revered as the Messiah in South Africa under many supporters.
IRB player of the year (2007) Bryan Habana has learnt how to circumvent the stoic game plans and has found other methods of scoring tries, be it by intercept, individual brilliance or opportunistic chip kicks.
We score less tries per match than our two biggest foes, we have stifled great players’ instinct and vision and yet there is a strong belief among many South African supporters that we are on the right track.
It seems to me at least we are doomed to forever be contenders and never the holders of the prestigious title of best team in the world.
Is it an inherent trait of South African leaders to remain conservative and afraid of taking risks? Will we forever be the rugby nation that has all the talent in the world, but continue to waste our resources due to the inability to reach for the stars?
Will Heyeneke Meyer stick to his guns and select the young potential stars like Jantjies and Lambie now that Johan Goosen is out for the end of year tour, or we he fall back to his safety net of Morne Steyn?
It is easy to fall back to the comfort of experience, but it takes a brave leader to venture into the unknown. Will Meyer be the man who will change Springbok rugby forever, or will we wait patiently for the promised land?
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