Written by: Benedict Chanakira (BC)
UK writer Alex Shaw was at hand to have a look at how the English are making use of their talent pool and Stuart Lancaster was part of a failed England World Cup campaign at home, one good thing among many to come out of his beleaguered tenure has been the desire to rebuild the English squad.
Whether he continues or there will be a successor to his role, he has managed to bring through some of the Junior World Cup players from the England u20’s in the last three year (2013, 2014 & 2015).
England’s junior structures have been the best in the world and has seen them win two and lose one narrowly. With New Zealand the benchmark for transition of players, talent and style of play the Poms managed to close the gap and have made considerable yards in bringing through their talent.
Only time will tell how good they can actually get. Of the 72 players used by England in the last three junior World Cups, 11 (15, 3 %) are regulars in their premium competition while 17 (23, 6%) are semi-regular players who have the occasional start and bench appearance with 4 of the England players have been capped in this period.
It brought about the question, how much of the talent in South Africa is being brought through the ranks?
While a score of our players are featuring n the Currie Cup, the gap has been rather telling when it comes to Super Rugby and Test rugby graduation. Between 2011 and 2015, there has been some movement.
A huge pat on the back for SARU who have made a massive effort to integrate as many players as possible from Community Cup, Varsity Cup, Vodacom Cup, Currie Cup and Super Rugby. Somehow very few of our players have managed to step up to the highest level.
Is this a matter of quantity with no quality? Is there a lack of trust with our coaches that inhibits the coming through of junior stars touted for greatness?
South Africa seems to have an obsession with experience, veterans and a regressing style of play.
- Coaching? Is the standard so low?
You see to say South Africa has no quality coaches is false. South has ample coaches and some who will not get opportunities due to various reasons. I would say the wrong coaches have had the opportunity to be at the helm in most Unions, while some are inhibited by culture, systems and when you are expected to win, you prefer to stay in a shell instead of giving it a go.
For years the kick and chase game plan has been effective. To disagree would be foolishness.
To have won the World Cup, a Tri-Nations, and British & Irish Lions series is proof of its rewards. What we have to then admit is with time things get out dated. Like software you need to keep updating to not just keep up, but to be able to be more effective.
What has kept the All Blacks ahead has been variation, surprise and evolution. Always ahead of the rest of the world. To quote a wise man, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
The All Blacks kick ball away, they even kick turnover ball. The World Cup final will tell you. We never dispute the kicking aspect of a team. What is different is the execution, and variety in their attack. The different running lines and the innovation at line out time. Instead of a driving maul they will do a move that catches even the best by surprise. The coaching in our country need to step it up, get fresh ideas from others and be willing to add a little bit of surprise to how the team plays.
The Lions had the touch of a Kiwi for several years and this allowed them to adopt a brand of rugby that attracts the crowds and has been rewarding with them offering surprise and the ability to not just stick to one thing but use a variety of skills.
The Stormers are expected to smarten up with Eddie Jones involved. The Blue Bulls and Cheetahs have now taken a huge step as they back youth, a new coach and a new way of playing.
Super Rugby will be defining, but time will need to be given to these men to walk their course. An entity afforded to the unions.
The next Springbok coach needs to come from this bunch at least, to have South Africa breed multi-dimensional, innovative coaches. Ever Heyneke Meyer deemed the best in South Africa failed miserably, instead setting some unwanted records in his Bok role.
At this moment, the best and proven coaches in South Africa are either in studios, left to coach junior teams without recognition, on their farms or at home.
A new generation is set to begin and it is paramount that coaches or unions change their mind sets, approach and adopt with the times.
- Players? Are they not skilful enough?
Ungrateful and an unwillingness to use all talent well because we have so much?
It’s a business and it is all about the money, our systems allow us to have players playing through six competitions. Varsity competitions, Club competitions and to a large extent the Vodacom, Currie Cup and Super Rugby.
Add the flurry of competitions at school level and junior stage you can’t deny the players are playing. The question should be, are our players not good enough or do our coaches have limitations?
I had a chat with one of the coaches that will remain unnamed and who works in a major union in our country and they relayed this, “Some of the players just wilt under pressure, the pressure at the highest level has led to players revealing technique, mental flaws and the athlete’s abilities coming short.
With the gap between Currie Cup and Super Rugby getting bigger the step up is even bigger.” When questioned about coaches.. “There is a show of the coaches’ insecurity and the pressure has increased compared to the levels below. It seems there is a fear aspect among many coaches and the emphasis on winning means the taking chances and gambles is just not on the cards.”
Between the 2011 – 2015 New Zealand U20 players have been afforded a debut on 15 occasions and six have managed to win the latest Rugby World Cup and one won the World Rugby player gong (Brodie Retallick) as Alex Shaw notes.
It has been difficult to break into this AB side but it will be interesting to see how New Zealand responds post the golden generation. Lima Sopoaga was trusted to start against South Africa in this years’ Rugby Championship, which was bold move that paid off. What must be highlighted also is that only one player got a debut in the NZ classes of 2013-2015. South Africa on the flip side has just managed 11 players with five featuring at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Are we scared to move on from our trusted campaigners or we must cling on as our players just aren’t good enough?
Failure to step up to Super Rugby means the Springbok coach can’t select players not playing there. There has been a total of 138 players used in the last 5 junior World Cups. Out of that, only 7.9 % (11) are capped players; 13.8% (19) play regular Super Rugby enough to be considered for national duty); the rest are either playing Currie Cup, Vodacom Cup- Varsity Cup/Shield, Currie Cup division or Junior Currie Cup.
So around thirty of the players have managed to step up to the big time having featured in the SA u20 ranks.
Are the earmarked Springboks just not good enough, or is the player/coach base questionable?
Considering New Zealand have less than half the players we have makes it even more puzzling. Does it mean the best really are not being selected when just under 22% are making a shout compared to New Zealand who have just over 26%? This is all based on information available.
The gap is telling and begs the question, is it the coaches, the players or both? From what I have heard from there players I had a chat to, there is a lack of trust an belief in some of the players, while some coaches are inclined to stick to a system that has worked in the past.
Do we have a solution? Only time will tell. Players such as Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp, Dan Kriel has yet to find their feet among many players who are yet to stake a claim. The biggest shock has been the failure for Steven Kitsoff to get a national cap, with him being one of the best loose heads in the country in the last two seasons.
2016 is the beginning of an important stage in SA Rugby, for a country swamped with talent there needs to be a higher turnover in junior stars into test stars.
Will we see more of our young stars step up? It’s all down to the coaches and they must show their hand, equip our players and be willing to think outside the box. Investment into the players early on will warrant a reaction.
The Stormers, Blue Bulls and Cheetahs Unions have been at hand to produce the most Springboks in the last four years. Majority of them young, exciting stars.