By Lucky Maree
ON THE BALL: The decks are cleared. It’s time for the Rugby Championship. A tournament anytime as tough as the Six Nations or any other competition – but is it worth winning the Championship if it means losing the Rugby World Cup? asks Lucky Maree.
When it comes to provincial rugby, the South African teams are always a step behind. The local franchises have to deal with the reality of so many South African players playing for clubs outside of South Africa.
Think about that for a moment and then ask the question: how badly did the Stormers really do? The truth is, working with what they’ve got, they did a great job. That’s not to say that John Dobson would have selected other players if they were available, but having more options would, no doubt, have been convenient.
But when it comes to international rugby, the tables are turned.
Those very same players that formed the backbone of so many overseas teams are now available for Springbok selection. And, what’s more, they are not available in the countries where they’ve been playing.
At the moment there are (hold on to your hat) about 300 South Africans playing professional rugby overseas.
The list is headed by players like Handré Pollard (Leicester), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks), Jasper Wiese (Leicester), RG Snyman (Munster), Cheslin Kolbe (ex-Toulon), but there are a great many others.
Jacques Nienaber is facing some tough choices. Does he go flat out for the Championship, or does he focus solely on the World Cup?
“We always want to win every single match but there might be some rotational changes within the six test matches leading up to the World Cup,” he said at a media conference.
“Obviously, we want to try and win the Rugby Championship but, depending on what happens, we can look for combinations.”
As strategists, Rassie Erasmus and Nienaber are always scheming. Would they, in their private moments, say that they don’t really care about the Rugby Championship?
How disappointed should we be if the Springboks lose against the Wallabies, the Pumas or the All Blacks? What if they lose all three of the matches?
Certainly, Nienaber and Erasmus are not going to play ‘B’ teams. They won’t do that.
While Nienaber says, “Depending on injuries and how much squad depth there is per position, we might re-jig even in the Rugby Championship,” he also says: “You want to go into the World Cup with momentum.”
Yes, momentum is the key. The World Cup is not the place to experiment. It’s not the place where players find their feet.
Do we want to win the Rugby Championship? Of course. Must we expect to win the Rugby Championship? Now, that’s the question.
The Springboks play Australia on 8 July at Loftus Versfeld.
Pictured above: Faf de Klerk
Image source: Twitter