Continuity trumps pedigree – Gold

Gary Gold

The time is now, two years out from the Rugby World Cup, to draw a line in the sand and say that the players in this country are good enough to play for South Africa.

The Springboks have whitewashed France 3-0 and the coaches deserve credit for making some big decisions. They had the foresight not to pick overseas players, but rather to go with those who were playing in South Africa. And the two overseas-based players that were in the squad played off the bench for most of the series.

The proof is now in the pudding and the emphatic lesson is that we have to reward players who play in South Africa. It pays dividends.

Last season was a poor year, but my goodness can us South Africans go on about it! Pro sport works in cycles. Take the All Blacks in 2009 – everybody forgets about what they term a disaster season, let alone their run of World Cup defeats before that. Every team goes through a bad cycle and, while I believe mistakes were made last year, I think people have milked it a bit.

The Boks are doing well now and there are a couple of obvious reasons for it. The two main things are the fact that coach Allister Coetzee had more time to prepare the team this year, and bringing in the experience of Brendan Venter would have brought a lot of confidence to the group.

I know Brendan first-hand and he’s quite simply an exceptional coach and person. He’s very good at team dynamics, and a huge intellect. He would have helped Allister to get the Boks back to being a robust team and playing to our strengths, and that’s the foundation of South African rugby.

In saying that, France were always going to be tired after coming off a very long French season. We knew they weren’t going to be at their best, but there were some proper players in that team, including Louis Picamoles, who was the pick of the No 8s in Europe, and Virimi Vakatawa, a monster winger.

We can’t now say, “We were playing poor opposition.” These weren’t one or two wins by three points; there were three victories by over 30 points where we limited France to half the number of points. They were resounding wins.

But the real essence of why this Bok team was able to turn the corner, and why we have a chance of getting back to second place in the world rankings, is because we didn’t pick a host of overseas-based players.

How many times over the past two weeks have the experts said we can’t play without Willie le Roux, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis? I’ve read that Jaco Kriel is too small to play Test rugby, yet he has made the most tackle breaks in Super Rugby, and on Saturday he broke two more.

South Africa benefited massively from the fact that the group of Lions players in the team have played together for so long now. This talks to the science of where the game is going, and how valuable continuity can be.

I agree that a handful of our overseas players are better. There’s no doubt that Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw are world-class players. But it’s not about that – you have to factor in how they fit in with the rest of the team.

There’s a reason why New Zealand and England are one and two in the world rankings and neither pick overseas players. I think we underestimate what makes teams like the All Blacks and England tick. For them, the sum of the parts is bigger than the individual – that being the players having played together and having familiarity and continuity.

When I was coaching the Sharks, I had three players who went abroad because they knew they could still get picked to play for South Africa.

Jaco Kriel is sitting with a big offer to join Wasps. On Saturday, it looked like he loved being a Springbok. I say it’s time to make the players choose between club and country.

- Gary Gold

Let's chat

  • Gerhard Van Tonder

    Happy if SAR make that decision or to leave it with Bok Management.

    Continuity is an massive asset but to have depth to be able to call on a Duane must be an asset too.

    The word out of the camp was that Frans Steyn and Hougie contribution off the field was important. Only Management will be able to evaluate that importance.

    Leave it to Management to decide.

  • Nick.

    Gold is right. This is still a team game. The All Black’s do not pick overseas players, nor do England.
    This was a big call by the Bok Management to select a predominantly local team, and it’s worked.
    It must have also been cheaper.
    Well done Bok Coaches.
    Besides, the French based players in particular come back overfed, overpaid and underworked.

  • stormramp

    i still think that having a few overseas bases players added to the squad would leave some experience behind for future Boks to learn from and add it to their game. Its the little bits that our players need to succeed and compete with the All Blacks. We can be number 1. Dont exclude our overseas players just get them to the physical level of the All Blacks. We need that mongrel they possess

  • Barry Smith

    You can have continuity by selecting the same unmotivated players week after week and get a poor result, so I wouldn’t agree that continuity was at the core of the massive improvement! This was primarily about Venter’s canny coaching ability and man management. I also do not buy the view that improvement was put down primarily to AC having more planning time, because if that were the case, the Boks would have started slowly last year and shown steady improvement, as they had more time to plan, but it in fact they got worse!

  • Amien

    Barry best I will take you back to wc 1999 england woodward stuck with his mediocre players and the wc 2003 the mediocre players won. Continuity breeds success my pal. Play a team sport for years with your same players and they will evolve to read each others play. Its a natural progression im sure you will understand if you played a team sport. Leicester City ring a bell? Raneiri stuck with his core players from the second division and viola they won the league

  • John

    To add onto what Amien said, a good case in point is the Lions. Look what Johan Ackermann has produced with a bunch of no-name players over a couple of years. Those players remained together and became a brotherhood. They play for one another because they know those around them and they trust eachother. Trust takes time to build and it only comes through continuity in selection. We have to create a culture where our players don’t want to head oversees. Players will choose a healthy, happy work environment over the lure of the pound or the euro any day. And what excites me about the Boks is that it really looks like the environment is a healthy one currently where the players are happy and thriving. This will create a situation where players aspire to be part a Springbok again and in turn add value to the Springbok jersey and brand again.

  • Andre

    The reason why the All Blacks don’t pick overseas players is because of the huge influx of Islanders they have at their disposal and a production line that’s seemingly never ending, England do not pick overseas players simply because they do not have a wealth of talent leaving their shores as we do.
    We need to address the issue of WHY players are leaving and not adopt a “draw a line in the sand approach”

  • Chad

    Excellent article…and yes its time to make them choose between club and country…lets make them earn the Bok jersey…it should be more valuable to any Bok player than a money spinning contract overseas!!!

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