Posts Tagged ‘Jean de Villiers’

Give Allister and Stick a sporting chance

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THE appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick to the Springbok team represents an opportunity to align rugby with contemporary SA. Let’s not blow it.

Both bring considerable social and political capital. Each has proved himself to be a game-changer. At Western Province, Coetzee showed that you could field a team with eight or nine players of colour and still be the best in the country. In his eight years at the helm, he led the Stormers to the top of the South African conference three times, and won the Currie Cup twice.

Almost half the players in Stick’s Under-19 team, which went on to win the Under-19 Currie Cup, were black, most of them from the Eastern Cape.

Neither came from a culture that privileged whiteness, and they gave the lie to the prevailing wisdom in parts of South African rugby: that black players weaken a team and are the tax you pay to appease the politicians.

Stick grew up in a Port Elizabeth township with a mother who frequently struggled to put food on the table. He attended the local township school, and yet still managed to make it to the top, captaining the Sevens team that won the World Series title in 2008-09.

Coetzee grew up in Grahamstown. He has a vivid memory of watching white boys at nearby Kingswood College play rugby with the best equipment, while he had to walk to the much poorer coloured school down the road. His father died while he was very young and his mother struggled to provide for him and his three siblings.

 

 

ALTHOUGH a talented and ambitious scrumhalf, his race precluded him from playing for SA.

Stick and Coetzee reflect the tough life experiences common to the majority of South Africans, and their elevation to the upper echelons of the game must make it seem much more accessible than it has in the past.

Neither has a chip on the shoulder, or sees himself as a victim. Their victory against the odds they were born into shows character and emotional resilience.

These qualities came in handy when dealing with their respective managements.

Stick answered to the deeply dysfunctional Eastern Province Rugby Union, and Coetzee endured eight years of frequently erratic and interfering management under the Western Province Rugby Union.

But the pressures on the Springbok coach, in particular, are way more intense and, without proper support, Coetzee will struggle.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) has done well to appoint Coetzee and Stick. But it now needs to prove that this is not window-dressing. It needs to give their new Bok coach all the resources he needs to succeed. Otherwise, his appointment will be seen to be a cynical one, setting him up to fail.

Similar privileges to those accorded to Heyneke Meyer would be a good start.

Saru forked out substantial sums at the start of Meyer’s tenure to enable him to bring his own management team from the Bulls. He was then allowed to add more coaches, such as breakdown specialist, Richie Gray.

As yet, Coetzee does not appear to be similarly indulged. There is no evidence that he has picked any members of the team announced on Tuesday.

Given that he has already been disadvantaged by being appointed three-and-a-half months late, Saru needs to do all it can to help him, otherwise it risks being accused of not giving the same opportunities to a black coach as it gave to a white, Afrikaans one.

The corporate world should come to the party: any new sponsorship deals should be predicated on better governance, which would include equal opportunity for all employees, regardless of colour.

There has been talk of the Super Rugby coaches forming a Bok “selection committee”. This must be rapidly scotched. Meyer fought for — and won — the right to have ultimate say over selection. Rightly, he argued that if he were to be held responsible for winning every game, he needed to be able to pick his team.

The Super Rugby franchises need to play their part and put petty provincial rivalry aside.

The initiative introduced in Meyer’s term of systematically resting key Springbok players during Super Rugby must be continued.

Super Rugby coaches should also give more players of colour some proper game time to increase the pool available to Coetzee.

Fans need to give the new coaching team the benefit of the doubt. A bit of generosity of spirit would go a long way. Fans, particularly those who flock to Ellis Park for the iconic All Black derbies, should learn the first verses of the national anthem so that we are no longer subjected to the dramatic amplification of sound when English and Afrikaans verses are sung. It’s not that difficult. Make an effort.

 

 

DESPITE the autumn chill in the air, there is a sense of spring-time, of new beginnings, about rugby. Unlike Meyer, who looked to seasoned troops right from the start of his campaign, Coetzee will have to start afresh. Most of last year’s team have either retired, are approaching retirement, or are playing abroad.

This should not be a problem for Coetzee, who has proved that he is happy to trust youngsters.

Stick is something of a specialist in turning rookies into stars, given his track record with the Eastern Province Under-19s.

Transformation, which is viewed as a burden by Meyer, will come naturally to Coetzee.

At the Stormers, Coetzee displayed the ability effortlessly to forge racially and culturally diverse teams. Boys of colour were given every opportunity, but so were white players. Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth flourished in his time, as did Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, and Nizaam Carr.

There is a good chance that, with Coetzee and Stick at the helm, the sense of marginalisation that has plagued black Springboks will be a thing of the past. Under Meyer, Afrikaans was used for team talks, which was alienating for black players. The new Bok set-up hopefully will better reflect our diversity of languages.

Stick’s Under-19s also brought a vibrant culture from their Eastern Cape schools — with traditional isiXhosa war and struggle songs borrowed from their elders.

Some infusion of this into Bok culture could only enrich it.

• McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok, and a visiting researcher at the Institute for the Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town.

* This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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THE appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick to the Springbok team represents an opportunity to align rugby with contemporary SA. Let’s not blow it. Both bring considerable social and political capital. Each has proved himself to be a game-changer. At Western Province, Coetzee showed that you could field a team with eight or nine […]

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All Bok games for 2015 RWC are sold out

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TICKETS for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will go on general sale tomorrow, but the bad news for South Africans is that every Springbok game is already sold out.

However, some of these tickets will have been block-booked by travel agents for hospitality packages and those that remain unsold will come back onto the market next autumn.

If you want to be guaranteed a ticket, you could opt for one of these packages now, but they are not cheap. SA Rugby Travel, for instance, are still offering packages to pool games and the knockout games.

But just going to the Springboks’ first pool game against Japan in Brighton on September 19 will cost almost R20,000 and to that you have to add airport taxes, which will probably bring it to about R26,000. That covers only the flight and ticket. You still have to fork out for accommodation and travel within the UK.

Packages include tickets to the “bronze final” (the match between the runners-up) and the final, which are going for about R40,000, including airport tax. Again, that is just for a match ticket and a flight.

Meanwhile, the team that will carry our hopes and dreams in September and October next year is being crystallised. This Saturday’s game against Wales will be Heyneke Meyer’s last chance to assess individual players’ capacity to adapt to playing in northern conditions. The contenders for several Rugby World Cup positions look pretty settled but, in others, the competition is still fierce.

Some World Cup veterans currently playing in Japan — including JP Pietersen and Fourie du Preez  — are expected to return to SA next year, which will guarantee them selection.

European-based players such as Francois Louw and Schalk Britz have an edge because they will be familiar with northern playing conditions and the way the laws are applied.

Next year, for the first time, Rugby World Cup squads have been expanded from 30 to 31 to include an extra prop. Judging on previous selections, this is likely to boil down to a 17/14 split between forwards and backs.

The squad will probably include two each in the loosehead and tighthead positions and three hookers. Five players are likely to be chosen to cover the three loose-forward positions.

There are several old-timers and newcomers who could do the numbers six, seven and eight jerseys proud and Meyer will find it hard to choose between them. These positions tend to carry a high attrition rate in terms of injury, so a player’s ability to switch between them would come in useful. Versatility is also important in the back line, which means utility backs are favoured.

Another position that requires plenty of back-up is scrum-half, and usually three are included in the squad.

If the 2015 Rugby World Cup 31 were to be chosen now, this is what it would probably look like:

Loosehead props: Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane, the latter having earmarked a place after his performance against Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni.

Hookers: Bismarck du Plessis; Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Britz, largely because of the latter’s experience in playing in the north.

Tighthead props: Jannie du Plessis and Coenie Oosthuizen, with Frans Malherbe as an outside contender.

Locks: Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Flip van der Merwe and/or Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Loose-forwards:Incumbents are Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen. But Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee, Teboho Mohoje, Nizaam Carr and Siya Kolisi are all serious contenders. Mohoje can also cover lock.

Scrumhalves: Fourie du Preez, Cobus Reinach and Francois Hougaard.

Flyhalves: Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard.

Left wings: Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo/Seabelo Senatla.

Inside centres: Jean de Villiers, who has also proved himself over the past three years to be the best man to lead the team through the World Cup; and Damian de Allende.

Outside centres: Jaque Fourie and Jan Serfontein.

Right wing: JP Pietersen, and Cornal Hendricks.

Fullback: Willie le Roux and Johan Goosen.

Several of the back line players can cover a number of positions, which increases their value. For instance, JP Pietersen is both wing and centre. Lambie can cover both fly-half and fullback, as can Johan Goosen. Lwazi Mvovo can cover both No 11 and No 15.

Our four pool games are fairly easy. Japan first, which should be a doddle.

Then Samoa in Birmingham, which is dangerous in terms of brutal play. Scotland comes next and a passionate home crowd in the gutsy northern city of Newcastle could spur the Scots on.

And, finally, the US — mighty in the real world but a pushover on the rugby field.

On October 17 come the quarterfinals, when everything could change.

 

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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TICKETS for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will go on general sale tomorrow, but the bad news for South Africans is that every Springbok game is already sold out. However, some of these tickets will have been block-booked by travel agents for hospitality packages and those that remain unsold will come back onto the market […]

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This is how we beat the All Blacks

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WHAT is it that gives the All Blacks the edge? The simple answer of technique doesn’t quite cut it. All the top teams in world rugby are on a par when it comes to conditioning and training: there are not many of them and they play each other constantly, so they are well versed in each other’s tricks and can counter or borrow from them at will. What’s more, former New Zealand coaches are now imparting homegrown secrets to most of their former competitors.

What seems to set the All Blacks apart is their cohesiveness: all 15 men work together to get the ball over the tryline. Of course, that is what all teams aim to do, but the All Blacks achieve a synchronicity that few other teams consistently match.

On attack, the All Blacks seem to sense rather than see a support runner so that the ball passes between them with such speed and deftness that opposing teams are left floundering. There is an instinctiveness to their capacity to find each other at critical moments that can spin off into a sublime free play that makes rivals look lumbering and unco-ordinated.

I think the answer lies in the egalitarian nature of their society. New Zealand pulls together far better than does SA, its closest rugby rival.

The state provides an effective education and healthcare system, which is used by most Kiwis. There are generous grants for the needy, which results in an average life expectancy of 81. South Africans can, on average, expect to live until 56, which means many die before they are 30 and a lucky few make it past 80.

Of course, our population is more than 10 times New Zealand’s paltry 4.5-million people but the real difference between us is how each country shares its resources.

The World Bank rates the gap between the richest and poorest in SA as almost twice as big as that which divides the Kiwis. The fact that New Zealand is a far more equal society makes it much easier for all Kiwis to buy into a common vision.

This cohesiveness is reflected in their rugby structures. The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) has 26 affiliates, almost double the 14 which make up the South African Rugby Union (Saru). But they are rationally organised, with the aim of properly exploiting all available talent for the benefit of the country as a whole. Which we most certainly do not.

In New Zealand, each affiliate union’s voting strength in the NZRU’s highest body, the general meeting, is weighted according to the number of teams under their jurisdiction. For example, if there are 60 teams — which includes clubs and school teams — they will have two votes. If a union has more than 225 teams in its area, it gets seven votes. Most come somewhere inbetween with an appropriately calibrated vote allocation. Thus New Zealand rugby rewards competence and merit.

By contrast, each of Saru’s 14 affiliate unions get an equally weighted two votes, regardless of size or competence. The obvious unfairness and inefficiency of this system is a source of discord between the big and small unions. They compete over resources, each union for itself, except when the time comes for temporary tactical alliances.

This disjointedness affects our national team. Where the Springboks have competing bosses in Saru and their provincial unions, the All Blacks have only one boss. They are centrally contracted and paid by the NZRU and therefore far better managed. Players are rotated and given sabbaticals to lengthen their careers. If contracted, they are not allowed to play abroad.

The NZRU contracts and pays its Super Rugby coaches so a uniform playing style is developed in its teams.

Our Super Rugby coaches enforce different playing styles, as do the clubs in Japan, France and the UK where many Boks now play most of their rugby. So, in the couple of weeks before each Test when the national coach finally gets his squad together, he must try to inculcate a uniform style.

There are other implications: because the Super Rugby franchises cough up the bulk of a Springbok’s pay, they are determined to get their money’s worth: playing him week after week so that he is exhausted and quite possibly injured by the time he has to report for national duty.

Unlike New Zealand, South Africans are, by and large, not all playing for the same team. If we did, we’d have no trouble annihilating them on the field.

 

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

Owen Nkumane gets the Bok captain's views on the eve of the All Blacks game

Owen Nkumane gets the Bok captain’s views on the eve of the All Blacks game

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WHAT is it that gives the All Blacks the edge? The simple answer of technique doesn’t quite cut it. All the top teams in world rugby are on a par when it comes to conditioning and training: there are not many of them and they play each other constantly, so they are well versed in […]

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A tale of two would-be Springboks: Johannes and Fikile

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NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate.

In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad members never given the chance to settle down and earn their spurs”.

“Now, 20 years later, I lament the tortoise pace at which transformation at the highest level is being effected.”

The country, he wrote, deserved a Springbok team that was representative of the “full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us — not on the basis of quotas or affirmative action or window-dressing, but on merit and for our long-term wellbeing as a nation”.

Tutu is entirely correct in lamenting the paucity of black Springboks and, as spiritual successor to Nelson Mandela, his words carry particular weight.

But I’m not sure they make a useful contribution to a debate that has become shallow and polarised. With accusations as serious as racism being bandied about, the South African Rugby Union is becoming increasingly paranoid and defensive. The government, under pressure from its own constituency, issues threats. Coaches, already under intense pressure to win no matter what is thrown at them, feel under siege. Racial quotas result in black boys from poor areas becoming commodities, bought by richer schools to bring up their numbers — and then ruthlessly discarded if they lose form.

A proper debate needs to be opened up about the role of rugby in SA which takes into account the fact that it cannot be separated from the ecosystem in which it operates. It can be argued, for instance, that the Springbok team is mostly white because, even in 2014, SA still affords white people the best chance of fulfilling their potential: and not only in sport.

We know that we live in the most unequal society on earth, with the biggest gap between rich and poor anywhere in the world. And the post-apartheid dispensation has only increased the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons.

Figures released by Stats SA earlier this year show that the poorest households are black and headed by women. Black rugby talent is largely concentrated in the Eastern Cape. Stats SA revealed that, in the Buffalo City metro, for instance, 45.8% of households are female-headed. Only 52.6% have piped water into their homes.

Almost one in five live below the poverty line.

Poverty follows a child from such a home — let’s call him Fikile — to school: where he is likely to encounter inadequate buildings, poorly motivated and educated teachers, little or nothing in the way of sporting or training facilities. It’s likely to be a non-fee-paying school, so operating with minimal resources.

No matter how talented a rugby player he is, his chances of developing his skills are limited.

Compare him to a pupil — let’s call him Johannes — at Grey College, Bloemfontein, the most prolific producer of Springboks. Grey College comes weighted with more than a century of investment from the ranks of SA’s privileged. Its buildings and sports facilities are magnificent. Parents can afford to pay for extra staff to supplement teacher numbers. Old boys are willing and able to make generous donations.

Johannes also benefits from historically enriched social capital: his mother will be waiting in her car to pick him up after practice. He will go home to a hot shower, a comfortable bed and a nutritious meal. He will likely have access to nutritional supplements. On match days his family will be out in force to support him.

Meanwhile, Fikile is more likely to have to make his own way home. He will have to fetch water from a communal shower to wash; his evening meal will be bread or pap. There will be little in the way of the protein essential in this adolescent growth phase to build the muscle required to make it as a top South African rugby player.

On match days he will have to hustle for taxi money to get to the field. His mother, single-handedly supporting her family, probably on a social grant, is unlikely to have either the money or the time to accompany him.

Both Fikile and Johannes will dream of one day donning the green and gold. But the lives each has been born into will determine which one has any chance of realising his dream.

This inequality extends beyond school. Black players have spoken about the additional stress poverty imposes on them even if they make it to semi-professional teams. One told how, throughout a training session, he would be fretting about whether he had enough cash for the taxi home afterwards, while his white teammate climbed into the Golf bought for him by his father.

This is serious because it distracts the black player from what should be single-minded concentration on his performance. The coach notices and chalks it up to lack of commitment — and he ends up being sidelined. Poverty brings with it a sense of shame so the black player is unlikely to try to explain his predicament in such a competitive environment.

Even at the highest level the emotional toll of inequality puts many black players at a disadvantage. For instance, Jean de Villiers’ dad, Andre, still accompanies him to almost every game, no matter where he plays. Andre de Villiers makes no demands on his son but is simply there to offer support.

By contrast, Siya Kolisi, who grew up in poverty in Zwide, has spoken of how he experiences his family as an additional source of stress: “If I don’t play,” he told me, “people in the township don’t eat.” So he has to deal not only with the psychic wounds of a deprived childhood but an ongoing dearth of emotional support.

Playing at Springbok level requires emotional resilience: you need to be able to bounce back from long injury lay-offs, poor results, losing your place in the team. Only players who have this kind of resilience are able to cement their places in the starting line-up. Life has given Jean de Villiers the best chance of acquiring this. Kolisi is one of thousands of talented black players for whom it will always be a struggle.

We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation-builder in the meantime.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

LETTER IN BUSINESS DAY (05-09-2014

LIZ McGregor’s brilliant analysis (A tale of two would-be rugby Springboks — Johannes and Fikile, September 4) has clarified and verbalised the thoughts that I, and perhaps others, have had about the question of black representation in the Springbok rugby side.

Her final paragraph is worth repeating: “We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation builder in the meantime.”

Thank you, Ms McGregor.

Cedric Harris
Via e-mail

Thank you, Cedric, for your kind words. It would be good if everyone interested in the game could talk about this more and come up with a more intelligent way of running the game.

 

 

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NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate. In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad […]

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Amateur administrators are the problem

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April 8 2014 at 03:46pm


CT_oped stormers0INLSATRYING TIMES: The reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log is bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who dont have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world, says the writer

 

Liz McGregor

 

It was odd, last week, to see Western Province president Thelo Wakefield sitting in the seat normally occupied by Stormers captain, Jean de Villiers. In the chair beside Wakefield – the one in which us rugby writers have become used to seeing Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, week after week, was Gert Smal, whom Wakefield was introducing to us as the new director of rugby.

But what was even more disconcerting was the difference in attitude.

After the kind of loss that has devastated the Stormers over the past few weeks, De Villiers, despite a freshly battered body and ego, would have done an immediate mea culpa, an unflinching analysis of his own and his team’s role in their defeat. Allister Coetzee would have done the same. Each would evince an admirable refusal to blame. Responsibility for failure and for the rectification of mistakes would be entirely their own.

Wakefield was the opposite. Despite the fact that he is the big boss – the man ultimately in charge of this team – he showed not a shadow of self-doubt. Proudly introducing his new white knight – Smal – he kept using the word “quality”. We need to surround ourselves with quality people, he announced.

What was he saying? That the coaching team lacked quality and he was now going to save the day by imposing another leader on the pack?

CT_oped wakefield0INLSA

Watching this self-congratulatory display, I thought: this is the reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log: this bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who don’t have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world.

Whenever I raise this issue in Western Province circles, I am told that the problem lies in the fact that it is 91 amateur clubs which govern Western Province rugby. But surely they too must wonder why their elite team persistently fails to reach its potential? And this applies not only to the Stormers.

The Western Cape boasts the richest rugby talent in a well-endowed country. A study by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa shows that 46 percent of rugby-playing high schools are in the Western Cape. It is these schools which produce our rugby players. All the union has to do is recognise this talent and manage it to its full potential.

It is interesting to compare the Western Province Rugby Union with that of the Blue Bulls, who have reinvented themselves and modernised in the two decades of democratic rule – and the advent of professionalism. The reservoir of talent upon which the Bulls can draw is minuscule by comparison with that of WP: only 16 percent of rugby-playing schools are in Gauteng and these schools have to feed both the Lions and the Bulls. Where the Bulls excel is in quality of management. The fact that there are far fewer amateur clubs in the region is a huge advantage. The number of superannuated club presidents clogging up their board does not succeed in inhibiting a dynamic and accountable professional arm.

Each of the Bulls teams – Super Rugby, Currie Cup, under-21 and under-19 – has a phalanx of specialist coaches and fitness and medical staff. They have dedicated scouts who keep databases of every promising schoolboy in the country: they plot his progress over the years and snap up the best.

Management takes responsibility for its appointments and supports its coaching staff, both publicly and privately. Chief executive Barend van Graan resisted the public’s baying for the head of Frans Ludeke in 2008 when he lost his first 14 Super Rugby games after succeeding Heyneke Meyer as head coach. Instead he quietly worked with Ludecke, who went on to vindicate Van Graan’s faith.

The same applies to the Bulls’ management of players. They take promising youngsters and train them up. They look after their most valuable players: an excellent example is how Victor Matfield is being managed. He is not being made to play on tour now – instead he is rested so that he is in peak condition to boost the Springbok squad later this year. Meanwhile, in best Bulls tradition, he is working with young players, passing on his skills.

Western Province are lucky enough to have the Springbok captain in their ranks but they show absolutely no grace or vision in how they manage Jean de Villiers: playing him into the ground without any consideration for his own or the country’s best interests.

One of the most admirable qualities of South African rugby teams is their loyalty. Partly this is because it is enforced by draconian contracts which forbid any public criticism of their bosses.

But mostly it is to do with the dynamic of this ultimate of team sports. The reliance of teammates on each other is absolute – for their lives, ultimately – because rugby players can and do get fatally injured. So it is very rare to hear complaints from either coaches or players. But, such is the level of demoralisation in the Stormers camp at the moment that some of it is leaking out.

Players feel that skimping on medical staff exacerbates the injury crisis.

The same skimping applies to the coaching staff: Coetzee is head coach of Super Rugby and Currie Cup rugby and he has also been responsible for recruitment. There is no specialist kicking coach.

Wakefield’s grandiose unveiling of his newest appointment just when the team for which he is responsible was at their lowest ebb was, I thought, excessively shabby.

Smal may well turn out to be a wonderful addition to the Stormers. But he is just as likely to join the list of talented, dedicated men such as Rassie Erasmus and Nick Mallett who are just too big for the small men who employ them.

l McGregor is author of Touch, Pause, Engage: Exploring the Heart of South African Rugby and, most recently: Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

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April 8 2014 at 03:46pm INLSATRYING TIMES: The reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log is bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who dont have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world, says the writer   Liz McGregor   It was odd, last week, […]

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Interview with Udo Carelse of Radio 702

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McGregor talks to Udo Carelse of Radio 702 about Springbok Factory

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McGregor talks to Udo Carelse of Radio 702 about Springbok Factory

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The Boks must be paid more

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The core of the Springbok team have committed themselves until after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Heyneke Meyer can now build his team around Jean de Villiers, Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and Adriaan Strauss, confident that they won’t be lured abroad by better pay in the next two years. It is a big step forward. Kudos to the South African Rugby Union for making this happen. And serious respect to the players concerned: it shows loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice material gain to stick with their country. There has been speculation that the Du Plessis brothers would go abroad next year. Their current Sharks contracts end this season and it has been suggested that Bismarck, in particular, would have difficulties with new CEO John Smit, given their rivalry over the position of hooker when Peter de Villiers was Springbok coach. But it appears both parties have risen above it: Jannie and Bismarck have signed new contracts with the Sharks as well.
Ever since his initial year-by-year appointment as Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers has made it clear he feels no sense of entitlement: he needs to continually earn his position. At a press conference in June this year, he committed himself only as far as 2014, when his current Stormers contract comes to an end. But his sterling performances, both on and the field, have settled this question. There is every likelihood now that Jean de Villiers will lead the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup.
SARU have made another clever move: cognizant of the Springboks’ dire away record against the Wallabies and the All Blacks, they have offered an additional incentive. Their win against Australia in Brisbane gained all 23 members of the match-day squad a bonus of just over R100,000. If they’d gone on to beat the All Blacks in Auckland, it would have doubled last their takings. This an extraordinary reward for an extraordinary challenge: the same bonus is not on offer for any other games.
But the issue of inadequate pay remains unresolved. A breakdown of Springboks’ earnings shows the financial sacrifice these players have made in staying here, particularly those whose careers will taper off after 2015, limiting the options for earning proper retirement funds while they are still marketable.
Springboks are paid between R900,000 and R1.4million a year, depending on their levels on seniority. Their franchises pay them an additional salary, which ranges between R600,000 and R3.5million. This means a newly capped Bok is likely to be on a total of R1.5million a year while an experienced player at the top of his game will be on R5million. If they win all 12 Tests in a year, they will each get an additional sum of around R1million.
But that is gross income. So, 40% of that goes to SARS. Players have to pay their own injury insurance, which is between 5% and 10% of their salaries, depending on which franchise they are contracted to. A couple of the franchises continue to pay players their full salaries for six months if injury keeps them out of the game. At others, they are paid only for two months, despite the fact that these injuries were sustained on the job. Players also have to pay their own medical aid contributions – at the top rate, because the job inevitably requires expensive treatment. Added to that is a compulsory contribution to a retirement fund.
Look at what our players are paid overseas by comparison: Toulon gives Bryan Habana R8million a year, whether his team wins or loses. In Japan, Jaque Fourie earns around R10million for playing around 10 games a year.
SARU does not pay our players enough. And the reason for this is that the Springboks have to subsidise the professional aspirations of its minor union members.
Just under R700 million a year pours into SARU’s coffers each year. The vast majority of this comes from the sale of broadcast rights and from sponsors, chiefly Absa. It is our national team that earns most of this – it is the Springboks whom DSTV customers will pay top dollar to watch and it is with the Springboks that sponsors are most eager to ally their brands. Yet, aside from their franchise pay, only 10% of this R700million goes to the Springboks each year – and that includes salaries, travel and training camps. An almost equal amount goes to SARU’s smallest and least effective unions. Each gets R7.4million of the joint SARU income from the sale of broadcasting rights and another three-odd million to fund the accommodation and travel costs of their Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup teams. Added to this is another R1million or so for “development” costs. What development? There is virtually no rugby played in some of these provinces. They just buy in second tier players from the schools who do the actual development, pay them around R10,000 a month, and give them the illusion they might one day be Springboks. It’s not fair on them and the cost of it is crippling the true professionals.

**This column first appeared in Business Day

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The core of the Springbok team have committed themselves until after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Heyneke Meyer can now build his team around Jean de Villiers, Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and Adriaan Strauss, confident that they won’t be lured abroad by better pay in the next two years. It is […]

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