Springbok Selection - Is the Cape outcry justified?
Whenever a Springbok rugby team or Bafana Bafana football team or Protea cricket team gets selected, there are millions of armchair selectors who give their own opinions. Saturday evening, when new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer announced his first National squad it was no different. Emotions ran high and the experlatives being spewed out, were hovering between funny and crude. What made it worse was the fact that the Stormers had just beaten the Bulls in Pretoria. So expectations amongst Cape fans were high. So when Meyer announced the names of 13 Bulls and just 3 Stormers in his 32 man squad, the blood pressure started to boil over.
Having had time to digest the squad now, let us examine this further and see if there is justification for this outrage amongst especially Cape rugby supporters. When you look at the XV that will take the field, it can be expected that all 3 Stormers will start. Let us look at those who can count themselves unlucky and then examine why they were not selected.
In my opinion, Joe Petersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Peter Grant and Siya Kolisi can count themselves very unfortunate to be left out of that 32 man squad. That is a total of five players and if they were selected the Stormers would still have had only 8 players in the squad. This would still not have compared favourably with the 13 Bulls and 12 Sharks in the squad. If we add the names of the injured Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Andries Bekker there would have been 11 Springboks from Cape Town. We would like to believe that Bekker, Vermeulen and Burger would have been in Meyer's first squad.
Now lets look at the unfortunates. Of those 5 we identified earlier, 3 are backline players. The Stormers backs have come in for quite a bit of criticism this season for their lack of bite, penetration and inability to score tries. So are Messrs Petersen, Aplon, de Jongh and Grant victims of the Stormers style of play or Meyer's perceived biased selection? The fact that they have not been able to breach the gainline regularly. That they are running too laterally or that they have not been distributing effectively of late could quite possibly have counted against them. Meyer like the rest of us rugby viewers have seen how the Stormers backline have struggled. So in my opinion, I say lets look past our Stormers flags and acknowledge that our backs have not been good enough this season. Give Coach Meyer the benefit here and acknowledge that the Stormers backs need to up their game if they want to be in the Bok team for the SANZAR Championship later in the year.
Having said this however, I find it disturbing that Coach Meyer believes Aplon and de Jongh are too small for his team. Both of them have the ability to be destructive and matchwinners on their day. There is also nothing wrong with their tackling. Where the Stormers backline lack on the creative and attacking front, they more than compensate with their defending. They have proved on more than one occasion that they are the best defensive team in Super rugby. So Meyer needs to go re evaluate that assesment of his.
Springbok selector Peter Jooste told me that the coach wanted JJ Engelbrecht in his squad. Meyer believes Engelbrecht can be the replacement for Jacques Olivier. He is looking for a big outside centre in the Fourie mould and he believes Engelbrecht could be that guy. According to Jooste, Engelbrecht will not necessarily playn in the England series, but the coach will work with him to evaluate him for that role. Is the National squad the place for a player to be evaluated?
Now lets turn our attention to Siya Kolisi, who must undoubtedly rank as the find of the season. Kolisi had a blinder against the Bulls on Saturday evening and his performance just before the team announcement was always going to create problems for the coach if he was not in the squad. Kolisi should probably have been in the squad. He is the one player who can feel rightly aggrieved. Apart from past Saturday, he has been excellent all season long. However, Jooste's explanation for his exclusion is what baffles and disturbs me.
Jooste told me that the selectors are very cautious with him. They don't want to make the same mistakes with him as they made with Solly Tyabilika. The late former Sharks flanker was selected at a very young age. He could not handle everything that came along with being a Springbok. So the selctors were mindful of that. How could they compare Siya to Solly? Why would they compare them? Is the comparison based on the fact that they are both Black Africans? Surely heritage should not play a role in selection. Siya Kolisi is not Solly Tyabilika and should be treated as such. When the Bok team was selected he should have been judged solely on his rugby performances. Are other players also compared against players from a previous generation? Was Eben Etsebeth compared to Gio Cronje or Marcelle Coetzee to Tobie Oosthuizen? Mr Jooste's explanation was rather lame in my opinion.
This brings us nicely to the transformation issue. Compared to Peter de Villiers, Meyer is doing fine. He selected 8 black players in his squad. That is exactly 25%. Is that the target set by SARU? However not one new black player was selected. All those selected have been there before. Kolisi would have been a brand new selection, ushering in a new era.
Overall I believe Meyer got more right then he got wrong, but he missed out on a golden opportunity to select a player who many believe will go on to become a Legend of Springbok rugby. However, only time will tell.