Timing is everything in rugby. One minute too early or too long and you get it completely wrong and it could cost you a game, a career or a job. Over the years we have seen players thrust into the deep end too early and it has either hampered their careers for good or they trickle down into the unknown, By Benedict Chanakira
The Ardie Savea story is the most exciting. One of the most explosive loose forwards in the world is making waves but is deemed still not ready to be a regular Test player. Despite consistent and dominant performances in Super Rugby he continues to be eased into the role.
Savea made his Test debut this season and his first start last week. In 2013 he was an apprentice in the senior All Black squad, being guided on what was required, not just physically but also mentally and technically. The Springboks did the same with Lizo Gqoboka and Seabelo Senatla who are tipped to don the green and gold for the Springboks.
We face that challenge in South Africa, over the last few months many of us have been at hand to campaign for the inclusion of Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Curwin Bosch, Ox Nche and many more young talents in the Springbok set up immediately in some capacity. These are bright young talents which may need a bit of time to address their weaknesses, their mental aptitude and a general understanding and progression on how to deal with rugby at the highest level.
But we have a habit of jumping onto the bandwagon and trumpeting the next young talent into the national set up too early, for some to immediate demise?
History has a habit of repeating itself. Danie Craven made his Springbok debut at 21 and retired a legend. Players like Eben Etzebeth, Schalk Burger and Francois Steyn are among many who have proven that if you have the ability you can seamlessly fit into Test rugby.
Unfortunately others have proven that the step up came too early in their careers such as Chilliboy Ralepelle, Danie van Schalkwyk, Gaffie du Toit to mention a few. Some players disappear from the sport completely, financially struggled with no back up plan and then end up in the wrong social circles.
The apprentice approach seems to allow for a closer look at the players, which can be aided by the use of the ‘A’ sides. Psychologically – the most neglected, yet important aspect of the game. Is an area players need to develop to be able to deal with the pressures and the transition from the cauldrons of school boy rugby into the dark arts of professional rugby, young players will need a mind shift. Players will be introduced to a much more important aspect of playing- working hard and not just relying on talent.
Some will cope and excel and for some the hype will be too much. Time allows the mental, physical, technical, temperamental abilities to grow. Areas that are paramount to playing professional rugby. Players usually struggle with the pressure, the intensity, and dealing with fair-weather fans.
An excellent initiative that would have done their rugby a great deal of good, as they are afforded many a lesson, experience with the introduction of the SA A squad a master stroke initiative. This allowed players to come into the ‘international set up and offered fans the window to see whether players were able to step up. Several struggled. If selected properly being the key, it could allow South Africa to groom and develop the future internationals in the same way the Saxons, Maori All Blacks and other ‘A’ teams have managed to do. Based on the SA ‘A’ evidence we saw the woes Malcolm Marx faced with the line out and the inability of young Garth April to general a game despite a dominant pack.
The challenge is to be able to introduce young talent without damaging their development. An ability to harness the talent in the players to let them become world stars that will compete and survive on the international scene. The use of apprenticeship and the SA ‘A’ side should play a far bigger role in the overall nurturing of talent. Let us allow our players to play when ready for the step up which is done after closer introspection and planning.