Rugby values breed success – Jake

Jake White

The Pumas beat France 34-10 to finish third at the 2007 Rugby World Cup and, not long after, I went to an IRB meeting that discussed future plans to include Argentina in the SANZAR stable of competitions.

Some of those who attended the meeting were concerned that Argentina’s success had been a once-off and that they wouldn’t be able to sustain it in the Tri-Nations.

At that time, most of the Pumas squad was based in Europe. In fact, coach Marcelo Loffreda had held the pre-World Cup training camps in France because 27 of his 30-man squad played in the French leagues. It was easier and cheaper for them to fly the Pumas management team to France than to fly most of the players to Argentina.

The Boks won the World Cup with a squad of home-based players and the Bulls were the reigning Super Rugby champions. But that’s all changed in the past decade.

The Pumas have since done a U-turn and don’t pick overseas-based players anymore, and they’ve beaten Australia, Ireland and South Africa in the past five years. This season, the Jaguares have beaten the Lions, Sharks, Stormers and Bulls, and they’re in the running to clinch Super Rugby’s SA Conference.

Meanwhile, after a string of record defeats, the Boks have again turned to overseas-based players, and the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls have lost more matches than they’ve won.

In 2007, pundits would have expected an invitational team from Argentina to get murdered by SA’s top provincial sides. Now, they’re beating our ‘regional’ teams.

People will say that the Jaguares are the Pumas, and they’re right. But that’s because Argentina don’t pick players who are abroad, even though some of their best are in France – Juan Imhoff (Racing Metro) is one of the best backs in Europe and loose forward Facundo Isa (Toulon) would make any Super Rugby team.

Argentina have made a point of copying New Zealand as closely as they can with the resources that they have. You want to be an All Black? You stay in New Zealand. You want to be a Puma? You stay in Argentina. They’ve brought back the pride of staying at home to play for your country and the price of that sacrifice is financially much greater for an Argentine player than it is for a Kiwi.

Agustin Creevy was earning lots of money in France and it’s admirable that he gave up what he would have earned as a premier hooker in Europe for the chance to represent Argentina. More than just the potential shortfall in earnings, the rugby structure in Argentina is much shallower than it is in New Zealand and South Africa – if you don’t play for the Jaguares, the next step down is amateur club rugby.

Guys like Juan Martin Hernandez and Nicolas Sanchez were already household names when they opted to head home from Europe, but for the average Argentine youngster, who in the past would have gone overseas to make a name for himself (such as 21-year-old winger Bautista Delguy), he’s got to play club rugby to earn a place in the Jaguares and then, hopefully, the Pumas.

That means, if you get injured playing for the Jaguares during Super Rugby, or for the Pumas during the Rugby Championship, the only place for you to play your way back to match fitness is in club rugby, because there is no other rugby.

I spent some time in Argentina and their clubs have generally got one field with all the teams training on it. They kick off at about 7pm at night to give the guys time to get through the traffic after work, and they finish up at around 10pm. Some of those guys go on to play for the Jaguares and then the Pumas.

Ten years ago, people would have said it’s unfair because those guys can’t possibly compete with the best in the world, but now they are. You have to wonder how much of it is down to their rugby improving, and ours regressing – we’ll have to wait until the Rugby Championship to see.

The Argentines are also very much like the Kiwis in that they have held onto their rugby traditions and they have the same rugby values. If your grandfather played for San Isidro Club, then that’s where your dad played, it’s where you play, and it’s where your son will play. It’s like that in New Zealand too.

I was once at the Dunedin town hall for a post-Test function with the Boks, and All Blacks greats Jock Hobbs and Sir John Graham made a toast to Tana Umaga that gave me goosebumps. Tana was coming to the end of his career and, even though I’m sure they did it again in a private team setting, they didn’t want to miss the chance to publicly thank Umaga for his contribution to New Zealand rugby.

It’s one of those things I’ll never forget. They weren’t scared to do it in front of the Springboks, and it just showed how important it was to them – to everyone there, it was very clear how special it is to be an All Black.

They made sure that Tana walked out through the front door. In South Africa, some of the greatest players leave out the back door. Os du Randt retires and, after a short stint as the Boks scrum coach, he’s gone. Percy Montgomery was the kicking coach, and the next week he’s gone.

And it would be remiss of me, as a guy talking about rugby tradition, not to mention that we’re quietly going to close Newlands, one of the game’s most iconic venues, without so much as a send-off. The second oldest rugby ground in the world may have hosted its last Test and its last Super Rugby match without so much as a goodbye. We’re just going to wipe that history away without a thought.

One of the things I’ve never enjoyed about South African rugby is that we don’t know how to finish things in an orderly way. In New Zealand, they temporarily rename a stadium for Wyatt Crockett; our veterans almost never retire with a swansong. You can’t always get it right, but we don’t even try.

They understand that thinking in Argentina. Maybe that’s part of the reason the Jaguares are nine points clear of the Stormers with a game in hand.

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Chris Mouton

    Good article, Jake. Yes, there’s much to be desired for the rugby culture in South Africa. Hopefully we can tear a page from some of the other rugby nations in order to honour our veterans better.

    I could stop there, but then I would be ignoring the elephant in the room. One of the main reasons why SA players are leaving in droves is not just about the money, but they fact that they most likely will not reach the top level due to the transformation targets set by the government. Would you take pride in playing for the Springboks if your position is compromised by hard coded rules? As a professional rugby player, rugby is your job. If you can’t find the work you want, you go somewhere else where you’ll be more satisfied/treated fairly.

    We have made massive strides in having quality players of colour that can qualify for the Boks on merit. Looking at the lesser competitions you can see more players of colour developing. Don’t you think it’s time to do away with the quota system so that the competition for positions are more fair towards ALL players? Then players of colour would experience the pride, because they were picked due to their skill and talent and not because of government regulation. White players will then also know that the selection has nothing to do with colour, but purely based on skills and talent. Healthy competition for positions breed pride, because then you know you are the best of the best.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Phaldie

      Most of what you say I agree with.The question is ,Why is it necessary to bring the transformation factor into play?At the current craven week all players selected in the 1st xv are from certain schools.with wp fielding 3 teams wasnt the opportunity there to pick some rough diamonds from the townships in your 3rd xv,rather than pick half the team from 1 school?OPPORTUNITY LOST,and that’s what’s happened over the last 20 odd years.No wonder we find ourselves in the rugby doldrums.mp

      • hopeful

        Are you suggesting that players should be picked on race and not talent?….so basically field a team that isn’t the best simply to please a majority race?

        Answer me this….why hasn’t a tycoon like “Matsepe” or the likes invested in a school or academy to develop players all year round?….why not put some real cash, time and money into a long term project that will create a portal for underprivileged players to get nutrition, coaching and training assistance?

        Nope……let’s rather force an issue and throw possible talent into a team and watch them fail….not because they can’t succeed but because they didn’t get the proper backing…..

        Create a league, start tournaments, fund schools….so many options….don’t take away opportunity from kids that earned their right simply to please political requirements….

        • hopeful

          And I totally agree on one thing…20yrs could’ve been used far better….

          Give the rough diamonds real support not handouts, quota placements and short unrewarding careers….and that includes every race of rough diamonds!!

  • John Comyn

    I had no idea! Very interesting thanks Jake. Now that Rassie is able to call on any player regardless of where they play their rugby, the gold rush will continue unabated. It is interesting that players in Argentina can return but have to play their rugby at home. We could have a similar situation here. I thought this might be the case with Vermeulen only to find he’s off to Japan. In essence what this means is he chooses where and when he wants to play. That can’t be right! I think we are all hoping Rassie can instill a sense of tradition and pride into the new crop of Boks.

  • Grant Kingsley

    Good article. I also agree with Chris Mouton above.

    South Africa is unique in that we have so many facets to our rugby culture. As Chris said, we have the political aspect which no other team in the world has. This erodes our culture as some feel unfairly treated by the government directive. Even players of colour feel unfairly labelled as they feel they are world class but some ‘older minded’ folk think they are not there on merit.

    This will continue to ruin our culture and drive both players and supporters apart. If I were a professional with the option of a fat contract in Europe or Japan where I won’t be judged on my skin colour but my ability on the field, I would jump at it regardless of playing for the Boks or not. And with the added benefit of a socio-economic structure far more stable than South Africa’s as well as a better environment for my kids to grow up in. It’s a no-brainer. Sure we have some positively dedicated people staying put such as Warren Whitely, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Malcolm Marx, and others, who are certainly receiving huge offers abroad. But for how long?

    This is a subject requiring serious debate and a solution needs to be found. Starting off, we need to remove the transformation rules for the Springboks and rather increase it on the lower levels. If our franchises are providing the Springbok coach with 30 world class players of colour then we would never debate the make-up of the Springboks.

  • Spartan

    But how do you explain the poor performance of the Pumas since the last world cup?

    • Barry Smith

      Agreed, really a bit of a cliche. The Jaguars have good leadership and this has reflected in their performance – the Pumas coach was fired and that also reflected in their results!
      Our National team was subjected to outrageous leadership over the past few years, making it very difficult for players to subscribe to the cause! It is too easy to leave the blame at the players doors, when they are confronted with poor leadership and poor administration. In Erasmus, I believe we have a sound, honest & intelligent leader and I think this will, given time, reflect in the results!

  • Dean

    Ja well, SA rugby needs to create a professional environment where everything is geared towards success and quality competition. If this happens and they are able to pay their players and coaches a bit more, they can do it. Jake’s been saying this for years! Heyneke reiterated it. SA rugby doesn’t promote a rugby culture where everybody is working together towards common goals. All the unions are pulling in their own direction and we are losing great coaches and players to overseas clubs. I’m not completely against these guys going overseas to do a stint, but if we don’t have a rugby culture in place for them to return then all that IP is lost. It’s happening over and over again and SA rugby are slow to even acknowledge it. John Mitchell recently pointed out that our franchises will never win while most of our best players are overseas. He’s right. Less is more and SA rugby needs to keep the best in SA. The rest should play Club Rugby, Vodacom Cup and Varsity Cup until they earn the right to play in Super Rugby and Pro14. 14 Provincial unions is unsustainable in South Africa.

  • Mark Fredericks

    Well sadly, springbokdom has wiped away black rugby history without a thought or shred of remorse. The oldest club in Kimberley, Universal RFC – Est. 1886 has no ground anymore because the AR Abass stadium has been sold off to the Northern Cape Department of Sport. AR Abass, for those who dont know and couldn’t care, is the founding father of the non-racial SARU – not to be confused with the post 1992 racial SARU.

    Dunedin, besides sending Tana Umaga off on his post All Black journey, also has 87 junior rugby parks and close to 6000 registered players on the municipal books in the under – 10 league. That in a city of 130,000 people.

    South Africa’s focus is on the elite level of the game, which, in a country with 30% unemployment (white unemployment is at 4.8%) is not sustainable anyway.

    Remember too that part of Newlands ‘proud history’ includes the exclusion of blacks from attendance, and later, restricted attendance. I remember in an interview with Chris De Broglio, he mentioned the editor of the Argus being barred from Newlands because he allocated space to ‘black’ rugby in his newspaper.

    Let’s look at the whole story, not just the ‘white’ story. There are traditions beyond that of the elite core.

    • hopeful

      One could read this as a racially responsive post or perhaps what it is…not only did Newlands suffer a silent sendoff but many other contributors have experienced the same as well….

      I honestly cannot comment on Universal RFC be it black or white doesn’t really matter its sad that the “Rugby Community” has lost a member…I am sure that an astute rugby man such as yourself would know that many clubs both Black and white have been killed off without any notice whatsoever…

      The “White story” you mention is a little worrying considering Newlands was home to so many great South African players of all colours….and they have called Newlands home!!

    • Taahir Kathree

      Thank you. I could not have made the point you have made any better.

  • Nick.

    Mark Fredricks. I’m with you completely. We have a vibrant and strong culture. People need to open their eyes. All I am reading from most posters and the article is concerned with elite rugby that makes up a tiny fraction of the actual world of rugby. Some of our ‘traditions’ are not exactly exemplary as you rightly point out. We could make a long list here.

    Many of the posters here seem to be talking about a corporate culture as entwined with pro rugby. I thought the article was about rugby culture.

  • RaNt

    Perhaps, just, perhaps, if we all valued the Springboks over our provincial teams we would breed a culture similar to that of other countries? The petty squabbling, finger pointing, name calling and frankly childish behavior of some corners of our beautiful country highlights the biggest issue. Instead of backing and supporting all of our players and teams to try and achieve success, we are always trying to break the players we dislike. Change is required, in every aspect of SA rugby. Let’s back everyone in our systems and give them the confidence to play well. In any company, if the workforce feels appreciated they perform well. Give them the tools to improve, make them feel valued, and they will either return the loyalty or be forgotten.

  • Nick.

    Sentiment appreciated Rant, and agreed with.
    Just for a little bit, can we avoid corporate reference to ‘systems’, ‘workforce’ etc.
    Just feel we’re barking up the wrong tree here.

  • Billy

    Very interesting reading from all above. I would like to talk about Province and Stormers of which I have been and always will be one of their most ardent fans. We have not had a great season for which I don’t blame the players or the coaching staff. The rot is in the boardroom and they should be got rid of from top to bottom. The players and the coaching staff give it their all and we are very good at bringing our youngsters through to the premier teams. Whoever has been in charge of buying outside players should be fired. We have bought so many washed up players and even a number of injured players who never even got to play for us or others that just didn’t contribute. I do acknowledge that we have had a few good buys but for a Union that is broke we have wasted a lot of money. Why does a guy like Theolo Wakefield go with the team to New Zealand- wasted money. Marketing of the Union is almost non existent by comparison to the Lions, Sharks and Bulls. There should be a forum where the fans can meet with the powers that be. I’m sure that we can give them a huge amount of advice on marketing and making money for the Union. I could go on and on but I just needed to vent my frustration at the non performing gravy train.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Billy, I agree with most of your post especially the boardroom rot, I would love to see the entertainment budget for that lot. I can’t however agree on the coaching aspect though. Over the past 12 years we had Toetie followed by his henchman Fleck who between them failed to win anything of note. I don’t count Conference winners ( it’s merely a qualifying competition ) or the watered down Currie Cup as meaningful trophies. Toetie well and truly brought dom krag rugby back to a Union who were always considered the masters of open rugby and regrettably Fleck has continued that hopeless cause and his three years have been even more woeful than Toetie’s and that’s saying a lot.

      WP rugby desperately needs world class coaches to bring the undoubted talent available in this Province up to standard with a game plan based on balanced expansive rugby. With that they will become more competitive and every one knows what a successful team does to a Union’s bottom line. Build it and they will come. Cheers.

Comments are closed.