Goosen’s France fling a poor call

Johan Goosen's development will be stalled with his move to France, writes RYAN VREDE.

Goosen, within the Springboks' coaching ranks, is considered the most naturally talented young South African flyhalf ever produced. He has done things in training that have amazed even the most senior of Springboks and the hope remains that in time he will develop into a match-winner at Test level, either as a flyhalf or, the latest thinking goes, a fullback. 

On Saturday against the Sharks I watched him closely and understood why he is rated so highly. There was nothing particularly special about his performance, but his game management, a point of concern from the Springbok coaches, was superb, as was his option-taking. He erred on the side of the pragmatic for the most part, and the Cheetahs benefited. Lest we forget he turns just 22 in a fortnight and that he was up against a Sharks side laden with senior Springboks. His showing was commanding and composed and drizzled with dazzle. 

He is some way off the refined product Heyneke Meyer and co envision him being. There are deep concerns about his mental strength, particularly relating to his ability to deal with professional setbacks, as well as the influence from his advisors, among them his father. But he is a prodigious talent and a massive asset to South African rugby.  

Only, sadly, he has just one match left for the Cheetahs before he departs for life in Paris with Racing Métro. I've typically supported moves of this nature for elite South African players on the basis that the experience would grow them as people and players. But I lament Goosen's decision, which will see him spend three crucial formative years in France, a country not known for refining gifted young flyhalves into high calibre, Test quality ones. 

That view is shaped by professional experience and observation, as well as having my view informed by numerous interviews and informal discussions with players who've played there. There is a strong emphasis on forward play, with the development of the back divisions not seen as a discipline of as great importance. The coaches in France are generally better equipped to instruct and educate the heavies better, although Racing boast Ronan O'Gara as a backline coach, which I hope will benefit Goosen.

The former Ireland pivot was a far more pragmatic flyhalf than Goosen, one versed in a pattern that stressed territorial dominance over flat-standing, ball-in-hand attack. There are, however, undoubtedly lessons O'Gara can impart to Goosen, valuable ones at that, and I hope the youngster is a willing and competent student. 

Yet I still believe Goosen made an ill-informed career choice in the context of his personal development. That's not to say the level of flyhalf coaching in South Africa compares favourably with New Zealand, the benchmark in this regard, but he would have been closer to Meyer and Naka Drotské's guiding hands and largely free of the potentially suffocating pressure that comes from Racing's expected return on their multi-million euro investment. The latter is an important point, given how Goosen tends to be gripped by self-doubt at times. 

I can appreciate the need for an escape, if that was part of his motivation for taking the Racing deal. There has been intense media focus on him in the past two years and that can take its toll. But the decision to further his fledgling career in France is, I suspect, one he and the Springboks will feel the adverse effects of in the years ahead. 

I hope I'm wrong. I hope Goosen embarrasses my view and grows to be a formidable player.

Photo: Rob Jefferies/Photosport

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Ryan Vrede