The Bulls are guilty of hoarding players to detriment of the players and the franchise, writes BRENDAN VENTER.
History has shown that whenever the Bulls have struggled to settle on an established flyhalf, long periods of failure have subsequently followed. Owing to Morné Steyn’s defection to France, the Bulls recruited Junior World Cup-winner Handré Pollard to much fanfare.
However, the Loftus outfit started the season with Louis Fouché at ten, only to discard him altogether from the match 23 since the arrival of journeyman Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
What message does the recruitment and continued selection of Potgieter send the aforementioned young flyhalves at the union? How on earth can these players entrench themselves in the side when the management team sends mixed messages and affords the pair limited game time.
Hypothetically speaking, Pollard makes an appointment and meets with Frans Ludeke. “Coach,” he says, “I was your number one choice at flyhalf in the Currie Cup but started the Super Rugby season behind Louis. Then Jacques-Louis was signed and now Johan Goosen is a rumoured target.”
He continues: “While I’ve been on the bench for the last few games, I’m not quite sure where I stand in the pecking order. Can you tell me what I need to do to realise my full potential?”
In line with the above scenario I’ve painted, the Bulls have been heavily criticised for hogging young talent. The Bulls have a history of trumping other South African unions to the signatures of star performers at Craven Week, for example.
Not too long ago, the Bulls recruited a bevy of top young centres in Francois Venter, Jan Serfontein, William Small-Smith, Dries Swanepoel and Rohan Janse van Rensburg. While all but Venter remain at some level within the Bulls setup, Serfontein is the side’s only first-team starter in Super Rugby.
Meanwhile, the Pretoria-based side, at one stage, had the pick of SA Schools’ No 8 stocks. At a point, they had all of Arno Botha, Dewald Potgieter, Gerrit-Jan van Velze and CJ Stander in their side.
Owing to the recent mass player exodus, ahead of the 2014 season, the Bulls went on a similarly extensive junior recruitment drive. The point I would like to stress is that a team hording a pantry full of players in one position has an adverse effect on the talent in question and the system at large.
The reality is that the above ferocious recruitment policy even filters as far down as primary school level. For arguments sake, the Bulls may ask a 13-year-old boy from the Boland to relocate to a high school in Pretoria, with the off-chance of one day making their senior professional side.
The current line of thinking, which I vehemently disagree with, is that if we cast our net wide enough we’ll at least find a few diamonds in the rough and hard luck to those who fail to meet our standard.
The above scenario is precisely what happened to man of the moment, Marnitz Boshoff. Boshoff was an SA Schools flyhalf who already then possessed a tidy game and solid core skills. He subsequently did his apprenticeship in Pretoria but was ultimately deemed ‘not good enough’ by the Bulls.
However, young players can learn from his example. He refused to give up and resurfaced at Griquas. His hard work and current success at the Lions bears testament to the fact that rugby coaches don’t always know best, as much as many would like to think they do.
While rugby is a professional business underpinned by revenue generation, I refuse to believe that the recruitment and talent identification process should be carried out in such a cut-throat way.
In my opinion, it equates to messing with people’s lives in the name of professional sport.
While I’ve fingered the Bulls as the chief culprits, all major unions in South Africa must for a moment stop, take stock and ask themselves: are we not guilty of the self-same issue?
Ponder this point for a moment… How would you feel if it was your teenage son in question?
Those in recruitment positions need to realise the power they yield and, in turn, must be held accountable and realise it’s wrong to regard youngsters as metaphorical pawns in their chess set.
As a coach, my philosophy is to view the person first and the rugby player second. I relish the responsibility of a mentorship role and, as a matter of fact, take more pride in the development of the person than I do the rugby player.
However, for all intents and purposes, young players are sadly seen as commodities and a survival of the fittest policy comes into effect. The moment such an environment is cultivated, competition for places becomes so stringent that individual ambition takes precedence over team camaraderie.
Should SA Rugby step in to address this issue?