South African rugby is desperately in need of a good-news story, with the general perception of the game’s current state of affairs having dwindled to an undeniably low ebb, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
During his time as Bok coach, Heyneke Meyer often spoke of the responsibility the team felt in terms of playing for the people. He knew, more than most, that it was the performance of the Springboks that had the ability to influence the mood of many South Africans.
It’s not too far-fetched to suggest that a resounding performance from the Springboks on a Saturday often ensured numerous die-hard supporters could go into a new week with a spring in their step and a smile on their faces. Unfortunately, ever since the Springboks lost to Japan in their opening match of the World Cup, there have been a series of causes for fans to grumble rather than grin.
Following the Boks’ failure to fire at the World Cup, public perception has been one of nagging negativity and criticism, and it’s believed to have played some part in Meyer’s decision to step down.
Since then, the process of recruiting the Boks’ new coach has been clouded with a lack of clarity over the vision for the future, and delays in finalising a suitable successor is surely set to compromise the side’s preparations for an important new season.
More recently, CEO Jurie Roux has been dragged back into a multi-million rand scandal of alleged money mismanagement during his time as chairman of the Maties Rugby Club. And regardless of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle, it’s once again brought the integrity of South Africa's rugby leadership into question.
Over in Port Elizabeth, the mess that has beset the Southern Kings’ return to Super Rugby has often resembled something out of Ripley's Believe It or Not over the past six months.
EP Rugby, a region rich with black talent, was once celebrated as the next big thing for the South African game, but it’s now become a source of chaos and concern. For those players and staff who have been affected by the financial crisis, it’s been a desperately sad situation.
Considering for a moment that the decline of the Proteas has also coincided with a grim period for South African rugby, and it’s no wonder sports fans are feeling increasingly disillusioned.
What has provided cricket fans with some glimmer of hope, though, has been the performance of a young legend in the making, Kagiso Rabada, while Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock have also produced some memorable moments of magic.
As a new Super Rugby season looms, and despite reservations over a convoluted format, it’s similarly going to come down to the South African franchise players to regain some lost pride as matters on the field finally take centre stage again.
Inevitably after a World Cup year, this season represents a period of transition for most teams, but the Lions are now heading into their third year as a settled squad, and with the vibrant brand of rugby they like to play, this could be the most likely source of joy this season.
A new season also represents a new opportunity for South African rugby to rediscover its identity as a true powerhouse of the game. It’s something that we’ve lost sight of during a year in which the state of the game in South Africa has clearly deviated off course.
Eddie Jones, in taking on his new coaching job, suggested a similar thing had happened in England, but the no-nonsense taskmaster has since called for his players to rediscover the healthy ‘arrogance’ that should accompany their approach to the game.
Similarly, what a pleasure it would be to see South African sides rediscover their swagger this season on both the Super Rugby and international front. It’s time South African rugby rediscovered its mojo.
Photo: Chris Lee/World Rugby