The Springboks continue to be hamstrung by the bizarre decisions taken by the coaching staff and the SA Rugby administrators, writes JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.
‘Hang on a minute,’ the Irish journalist pleaded. His expression belied feelings of confusion and disbelief. The information that I’d relayed clearly wasn’t computing.
‘So you’re telling me that Rassie Erasmus is still in Ireland. He’s been working here [with Munster] for more than a year and has a good knowledge of the local game.
‘He was recently named the South African director of rugby. The Boks are in Dublin this week, but Allister Coetzee won’t meet with him at all?’
We both attended the press conference in St Helens on Monday. Coetzee confirmed that he and Erasmus would not meet until early 2018.
How about making time for a phone call or a coffee to discuss strategy during a Test week? Apparently it’s impossible.
How about reaching out for any sort of help ahead of a Test that could render this tour a relative success? Coetzee gave those present at the media gathering the impression that the thought had never crossed his mind.
My new Irish friend kept trying to add up his South African rugby sum. I started to wonder how the international media and indeed the fans from other countries must view us a rugby community.
‘[Assistant coach] Johann van Graan will replace Rassie at Munster, but he will leave in the middle of the Boks’ four-game tour? How does that work?’
Good question. The Boks will be without a lineout specialist ahead of the games against Italy and Wales, games in which the set pieces will be crucial.
‘[Defence coach] Brendan Venter is still contracted to Italy? What’s going to happen when the Boks go to Padua in two weeks?’
‘Brendan won’t coach against the Boks,’ I tell him.
He gives me a look. I raise my hands in surrender. ‘That’s the official line.’
‘What about this game in Dublin?’ he says, shaking his head. ‘This is South Africa. Who are they really missing in terms of injured players?’
‘They’re missing a full back row if you consider that Jaco Kriel, Jean-Luc du Preez and Warren Whiteley have all been ruled out for extended periods.
‘Duane Vermeulen has played a couple of games for Toulon since returning from injury, though. He declared himself fit and available for selection this past Sunday. The Boks aren’t interested.’
I shrug. Why indeed.
‘Who else is unavailable?’
‘Jan Serfontein will be missed,’ I offer. ‘He was one of the stars in the series against France; one of the Boks’ most influential players on defence. Apparently the Boks have granted him leave to settle at his club in France while the team tours Europe.’
‘Hang on, hang on,’ he says. The Irish newspapers have been up in arms over Simon Zebo’s defection to France. Forget the game against the Boks. This – along with the 2023 World Cup bid race – is the big issue in Irish rugby at present.
More than one media outlet has aligned the South African team’s results of the past two years with the number of players – over 300 – playing abroad. Will Ireland suffer the Boks’ fate? Clearly some feel that Zebo could be the first of many to seek fame and fortune in the French Top 14.
‘Elton Jantjies has started all nine games for the Boks this year,’ he says, trying to change the subject. ‘Why would Coetzee say that Handré Pollard now has the inside lane at flyhalf?’
‘Jantjies, Franco Mostert and Francois Louw won’t be available for the final tour match against Wales,’ I tell him. ‘Jantjies has also been with his Japanese club recently while Pollard has been in camp with the Boks.’
His eyes widen as if I’ve told him an incredible joke. He taps away on his laptop for two or three minutes and then turns to me again.
‘So, do you think the Boks have any chance this Saturday?’
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images