Make Springbok Rugby Great Again!

Five ideas for a return to fun Saturday afternoons.

First of all, Allister Coetzee did not do this to the Springboks. Neither did quotas.

The Proteas have an inexperienced national coach with a heavy quota system, and they are on the up.

No, the rot of Springbok rugby is systemic. It starts with under 13 coaches, and goes all the way to SA Rugby’s CEO (who has been under a cloud of criminal investigation for quite some time – and note that he is a white Afrikaner from Stellenbosch).

So how to rejuvenate the system? Here are my five ideas:

1. Dismantle all provincial rugby at school-boy level – including Craven Week. It serves no purpose and encourages kicking and the idolization of size. Getting rid of age-group colours might also relax junior coaches and parents, who have literally lost their sanity and treat rugby as a religion, instead of a game of fun, skill and fitness. Hence our robotic, insipid national team.

2. Get rid of the Currie Cup tournament. Instead give the trophy to the winner of the South African conference at Super Rugby. We need less rugby, fitter players and hungrier crowds and audiences. Amateurize the Pumas, Boland, etc. We have nowhere near enough players to justify so many professional unions. Focus on the old Test unions, who are currently our Super Rugby franchises. If you do this, the Kings will slowly come right. Professionalize them and guarantee their top tier status indefinitely. (Yes, I know Super Rugby sucks but that’s another issue.)

3. Focus on the Varsity Cup. Schools should feed varsities who should feed the six franchises who should feed the national side. We have to localise and simplify the chain of player production. There is no way SA rugby has the ability to scout and develop every single player. Empower the varsities to do this. It works for US football, so it should work for rugby. It might also help for our players to study a bit at a varsity and learn to think.

Subscribe to my newsletter to explore the big ideas of our time

4. No player who represents any foreign club should be eligible for the Springboks. Look at Duane Vermeulen in the Irish series. Being at Toulon has made him a worse player. Look at how stints in Japan have crippled Pollard, Whiteley, Jesse Kriel, Jaco Kriel et al. We need to control player conditioning. We are nowhere near as fast and as fit as the other international sides because our players play more rugby than most and yet no one mind controls their conditioning. SA Rugby should have strict conditioning protocols administrated by varsities and franchises. If a player wants to go earn pounds or euros, let them go. Far better to have an organised, fit side than a patchwork of tired stars.

5. With the previous four ideas in mind, all we need then is an inspirational coach who picks his support staff, his best 23 players, and gets them to do cool moves. Skills and defensive patterns need to be instilled at varsity and Super Rugby level. He should not be expected to teach players how to catch and pass as we currently do.

For many, Springbok rugby is a metaphor for the country. That being so, we need to face that things have got pretty bad, but also that things are not hopeless: a return to simplicity and old-fashioned rugby values of camaraderie and expression can do a world of good. Find a way to harness professionalism and the modern world of sport to this end and redemption will surely follow.