Springbok Squad November 2017

And the Silly Season is upon us.

Yesterday my wife and I had to leave our little village at the lagoon and travel to a neighbouring town to do some shopping. Our village is tiny, and the local supermarket is good for supermarkety kind of shopping. Food, beverages, cleaning materials, basic toiletries are all available, but anything more elaborate requires a road-trip to the next-door town, where we are blessed with that most modern of conveniences, a shopping mall.

Everything you could ever need, all under one roof. Well, not quite, our neighbouring town is also rather small, hence the mall is also somewhat reduced in size, but it does have a lot more choices than we have back in our own little village.

However, this story is not about our shopping expedition. It is all about the Silly Season.

Yesterday was the 30th October, and the mall was already in full Christmas dress-up! Glittery streamers, flashing lights, loops of green plastic pine needles, baubles and candles, Santa riding through the cottonwool snow on his sleigh… Little Drummer Boy playing across the PA system. Plenty of fake snow sprayed all over the shop-windows, belying the 34C temperature outside and the promise of plenty of hot days between now and the 25th of December.

It is all so very fake.

Just like the end-of-year Silly Season rugby tours by Southern Hemispherean rugby teams heading north.

Another endurance exercise in a never-ending Test Match circuit that has become somewhat meaningless, especially these end-of-year tours from the south. Fatigued players at the end of an immensely long and demanding season taking on the refreshed northerners at the beginning of their own, much shorter and less intense season. It is a recipe for losses, injury, poor rugby, a lack of interest, and the usual vociferous recrimination, if you are a one-eyed South African rugby supporter.

Consider this:

Back in 1995, the year that everything changed, South Africa played more Test rugby than ever before. 10 Test matches, including a warm-up in April against Western Samoa, 6 in the Rugby World Cup and 3 afterwards, Wales in September, and then Italy and England in November. It was the busiest year in Springbok history. South Africans had never seen so much Test Match rugby in one year, ever…

Some of those Tests were great occasions, the opening RWC game against Australia, the final against New Zealand, that rain-sodden day in Durban against France, perhaps the final game against England……. Some were less tense, the fistfight against Canada, two against the high-tackling Western Samoans…….… South African supporters were over the moon. Deprived of Test match rugby for such a long time, it was like open day at the sweet factory. (Or the brewery if you were a little older and had outgrown sweets..)

Nobody knew what the future held, and few cared. South Africa was back! The Springboks were World Champions and that was all that really mattered. The euphoria that flowed through the country was special, and the future looked rosy.

Few knew that rugby would turn professional before the year was out. Few knew, or understood, or even dreamed that the game could and would change dramatically and irrevocably during the coming years. Few could guess that it could all eventually become a bit boring.

Just a bit too much….. Actually, more than just a bit too much!

1995 was the harbinger of modern international rugby calendars that are overflowing with oft meaningless fixtures. This year the Springboks will play all of 13 Tests. Australia have 14, 15 if you count the fixture against the Barbarians as a Test. New Zealand will have played 16, plus a Barbarian game.

Now that is an awful lot of rugby, just from the player perspective.

When you consider the additional load of Super Rugby, some provincial rugby too, and you have players who are out on the field for as many as 30, or even 35, top level, high impact games in a season that stretches from February to November and beyond in each year. That is far too much rugby for the human body to sustain. Even the super fit athlete needs time off. Research has shown that the human body needs time to heal and mend. Ten to fourteen days after a particularly hard session of severe physical exercise, at the very least two full months of rest and recuperation after a season.

And it does not happen in the southern hemisphere at all. When those Australian, New Zealander, and South African players return from their tour to the north they get around two weeks off, and then the training for the next Super Rugby seasons starts in earnest! Kickoff looms in February.

Yes, I hear the cynics wailing that they are professionals and earn a good income, so they must take the lumps. That is a suggestion that simply ignores medical evidence, that ignores the reality of both player and spectator fatigue, and totally ignores the realities of the “product” that the modern era administrators are flogging to the world. Flogging is the right word too, as Test Match rugby is rapidly becoming something of a dead horse. Super Rugby has already achieved that equine status.

Allister Coetzee has released his squad for the upcoming tour to the north. A tour that ends on the 2nd of December in Cardiff against Wales.

The fixtures for the tour are:

11 November vs Ireland in Dublin
18 November vs France in Paris
25 November vs Italy in Padova
2 December vs Wales in Cardiff

The 34-man squad Allister has chosen includes four “newbies” – uncapped players, being: Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant, and the Sharks triplets Lukhanyo Am (centre), Dan du Preez (No 8) and Louis Schreuder (scrumhalf).

Coenie Oosthuizen has been recalled to the squad having successfully recovered from an arm injury. Loose forward Uzair Cassiem has also been recalled after recovering from the rib injury he sustained against the Wallabies in Bloemfontein.

There are also recalls to the squad for the Cheetahs duo of Francois Venter (centre) and Oupa Mohoje (loose forward).

A number of players were not considered for selection due to injury or other reasons: Jan Serfontein has asked to be released from the Springbok squad so that he can focus on settling down in France, while the likes of Franco Mostert, Francois Louw and Elton Jantjies will not be considered for the 2 December encounter against Wales, as they have club commitments elsewhere and this Test falls outside the international window.

Injury rules out the likes of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, Frans Malherbe, Jean-Luc du Preez, Sbu Nkosi, Ruan Combrinck, while there are still concerns about the fitness of others such as Duane Vermeulen.

There are some surprising inclusions in the squad, and some surprising omissions too.

Somehow Raymond Rhule has been recalled, despite having been cruelly exposed at the top level of the game. We have seen that he is nowhere near an international wing, yet Allister persists……

Somehow Ruan Dreyer survives, despite both Wilco Louw and Coenie Oosthuizen’s inclusion in the squad. We have seen that he does not have the technique to survive at the international level, yet Allister persists……..

Curwin Bosch is back in the squad, despite his shortcomings on the defence, once again cruelly exposed in the Currie Cup final, as well as his complete lack of experience at the higher levels of the game. Once again Allister Coetzee persists….

Uzair Cassiem, Oupa Mohoje…… Allister’s persistence is becoming an issue!

Chiliboy Ralepelle could not even get a spot on the bench in the Currie Cup final, yet Allister persists…….

Rudy Paige………

Yet there is no room for the likes of Robert du Preez, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Frans Steyn, Nizaam Carr, Lionel Mapoe (though I am unsure of his fitness), Harold Vorster, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Dewald Duvenhage, Seabelo Senatla….

I am somewhat confused by the Springbok coach’s selections – but then, I am persistently confused by the Springbok coaches and their selections!

The full squad is:

Forwards – Ruan Botha, Uzair Cassiem, Lood de Jager, Ruan Dreyer, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Wilco Louw, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Oupa Mohojé, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle.

Backs – Lukhanyo Am, Curwin Bosch, Andries Coetzee, Ross Cronjé, Damian de Allende, Warrick Gelant, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Rudy Paige, Handré Pollard, Raymond Rhule, Louis Schreuder, Courtnall Skosan, Francois Venter.