It is not often that I listen to Freestaters but this one made quite an interesting point.
The statement he made raised one question for me; “What are we building towards?”
The Boks enjoyed a brilliant 2009 season, one that will go down as one of the best ever in Springbok history, through that many players that were part of this season, and the build-up to it which started in 2004, will in future be remembered as legends of Springbok rugby.
Unfortunately in rugby, as in life, things evolve and change, and if you do not adapt and change with the times, you are often left behind.
Rugby worldwide basically runs on a 4-years cycle, from World Cup to World Cup. Whether we like it or not this is the reality. After most World Cup campaigns the World Champions at the time went through a transition period following their success as most players either retired or moved on and signed lucrative contracts with clubs.
South Africa was lucky in the sense that we were in another cycle, that of the British and Irish Lions which we only see every 12 years, and for most players, something that only comes around once in a career. That meant that South Africa and Peter de Villiers were able to hang onto most of the guys that won the World Cup in 2007 by dangling the golden carrot of winning a series against the Lions in 2009.
As it worked out, the Boks not only achieved that but also managed to record wins in New Zealand twice in two years (something that eluded most Springbok players in the past) and also won the Tri-Nations, South Africa’s third only time they achieved this.
Now as we close out 2009 with a European tour coming up, the only thing left for players is one thing no other team in the world has achieved, retaining the World Cup which comes around again in 2011.
The question on most people’s minds however is whether the heroes of 2007, and 2009 will be around in 2011 to achieve this?
Some of our stalwarts in Victor, John and others would be in their 30’s, with their bodies taking a battering for a good part of 6 years on the international circuit and by the time the next World Cup comes around, it would be 8 years – a tough ask in anyone’s books.
So what are we building towards? Retaining the World Cup in 2011?
If so, are we going about it in the right way?
Will John, Victor, Bakkies, Juan, Jean, Habana and some other guys’ bodies hold out till 2011? Can we be assured they will be conditioned well enough to compete against the world’s best just under 2 years out from now given the battering their bodies have taken, and are still to take leading up to the event?
And how are they going to survive mentally for another 2 years for a bunch of guys that has basically achieved everything the world of rugby had to offer?
The recent semi-finals of the Currie Cup clearly indicated that most of our top Boks, following one hell of a year in 2009, seem jaded, faded or just plain tired, both physically and mentally. Even in the press conference following the Blue Bulls memorable semi-final victory at Newlands Victor Matfield looked like a ghost whose mind was everywhere except in that press conference.
Now if a guy like him seemed mentally tired to even fulfil his duties as player and captain to keep focus in a media conference, how difficult will it be for him to maintain focus and the desire required to hold out until 2011 given the crazy schedules these guys are exposed to every season?
If the focus of the Bok management now shifts to the World Cup in 2011 which by all accounts it probably will, it might just be time for Peter de Villiers and his team to start making the tough calls.
Do we risk sticking to the guys that has done so much for Bok rugby in the last 6 years but run the risk of complete player burn-out in 2011, or do we gamble and introduce young blood two years out from the event to ensure we have a core base of players with enough experience, and hunger and desire to go and compete against the world’s best, and succeed?
Questions have continually been raised on the performance of guys like John Smit and his move to tighthead prop. Recent performances in the Currie Cup semi also did his reputation no good – and although it needs to be judged in perspective and the fact that John has had one hell of a season behind him, people will always only look at how he performs on the park.
Same goes for Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha who for the first time this year, looked like mere mortals against a very young and very inexperienced Western Province side.
Last weekend might just have served as a warning of the risk Peter will take if he does decide to stick with these guys.
Rugby unfortunately forces you to make the tough calls if you want to stay ahead of the pack. Rugby is not won on sentiment. Sentiment saw the Boks get klapped 19-0 at Newlands last year thanks to the sentiment surrounding Monty’s 100th cap, and sentiment for Bakkies Botha saw the Boks get klapped in the 3rd test against the Lions at Ellis Park.
So do we make the tough calls and tell John, our most successful Bok captain in history thanks for everything you have done, but it is time to step aside now?
Honestly, I do not know, which is why I am glad I am not the one who has to think about, and make these decisions.Tweet