Club B-teams hardly a true test of the mid­week Boks’ abil­i­ties

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

OOPS, it looks like I got that one wrong… No, the mis­take be­ing re­ferred to is not the pre­dic­tion made in this col­umn last week that the Cur­rie Cup fi­nal would be won by the team that played the least rugby.

That was 100 per­cent on the money, though you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to pre­dict it.

The whole sea­son has been dom­i­nated by rugby strat­egy that could have been scripted by Jake White and Heyneke Meyer.

The Bulls won the Su­per 14 play­ing Heyneke’s game, the Spring­boks won the Tri-Na­tions play­ing Jake and Heyneke’s game, and ditto the Blue Bulls and the Cur­rie Cup fi­nal.

There was no rocket sci­ence in pre­dict­ing any of that.

Full sym­pa­thies to those who wish it were not so and that there was some­thing new un­der the sun.

But it is a re­al­ity the teams that win tend to be the ones that kick the best, play the per­cent­ages best and feast best on op­po­si­tion mis­takes.

The coach that ig­nores th­ese re­al­i­ties has as much chance of winning as John Len­non had of see­ing the world changed to the fan­tasy land he dreamed up in his hit song, Imag­ine.

But I di­gress, for it just de­lays the ad­mis­sion of where I got it so hor­ri­bly wrong.

It was in my Sun­day col­umn, which dealt with the tour of Europe by the Spring­boks.

The point was made that the mid­week games would pro­vide a long over­due test of South Africa’s rugby depth, some­thing that can’t re­ally be pro­vided by the Cur­rie Cup, no mat­ter how much the more parochial crit­ics might wish it to be so.

Let’s not mince words – that was garbage!

This is be­ing writ­ten be­fore the match, but far from be­ing a test of South Africa’s depth, last night’s game against Le­ices­ter Tigers was just a waste of time.

It would have pro­vided no more mean­ing­ful a gauge of the abil­ity of the young play­ers in the South African team to play in­ter­na­tional rugby than the pro­vin­cial matches in the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions tour ear­lier this year tested the tour­ing squad’s abil­ity to beat the Spring­boks.

When I wrote that col­umn, I was think­ing of the Le­ices­ter Tigers team that plays in the Heineken Cup.

It is not re­miss to liken the full strength Tigers team to the Bulls. They are the English ver­sion of the Bulls.

But have you seen what the Bulls look like when they play without their Spring­boks?

There are no less than five Tigers play­ers in the Eng­land team to play against the Wal­la­bies to­day.

That is just the Eng­land start­ing lineup, not the wider squad.

In ad­di­tion, the fol­low­ing play­ers were un­avail­able for last night’s game be­cause of in­jury: Richard Blaze, Harry El­lis, Toby Flood, Ge­or­dan Mur­phy, Billy Twel­ve­trees, Sam Vesty and Ben Woods.

Some of those are ex­pe­ri­enced, big name regulars.

And then there was An­thony Allen and Jeremy Staunton, who were rested af­ter play­ing in all nine matches played by Le­ices­ter this sea­son.

Faced with those re­al­i­ties, and even not­ing the pres­ence of some age­ing for­mer in­ter­na­tion­als in their team, for­give me if I strug­gle to see how this Le­ices­ter Tigers team was go­ing to pro­vide any ex­am­i­na­tion of the abil­ity of the new Boks to play in­ter­na­tional rugby.

Sure, they are get­ting to play in a for­eign coun­try, but other than that they are be­ing pit­ted against a stan­dard no bet­ter than they should be used to in the Cur­rie Cup.

The Tigers pack that played last night was also to­gether for the un­der-strength East Mid­lands derby against the Northamp­ton Saints the pre­vi­ous week, so they might at least have had the ad­van­tage of con­ti­nu­ity.

But the Boks, if they are re­ally a proper rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the next best this coun­try has to of­fer out­side of the first choice Spring­boks, should have won last night at a can­ter.

In do­ing so, how­ever, they would have learned no more than the Lions learned when they smashed a Sharks team de­nuded of all its Spring­boks in a mid­week game build­ing up to the first Test match of the re­cent se­ries.

Maybe Bren­dan Ven­ter’s Sara­cens, be­cause they have fewer Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als and so many South Africans on their books, plus a coach who knows his op­po­nents so well, will test the Bok mid­week side when they play at Wem­b­ley.

But count the num­ber of times Eng­land club teams have beaten South African Su­per 14 teams when they have trav­elled over there for prepa­ra­tion games.

If it has hap­pened, I can’t re­call it hap­pen­ing more than maybe once, and those games nor­mally take place when the English teams are in mid­sea­son and the South Africans haven’t even started theirs yet.

Surely that puts the “tests” faced by the fringe team on this tour into per­spec­tive.

If they don’t win con­vinc­ingly, there was ei­ther some­thing wrong with the ini­tial se­lec­tion, or this coun­try has a prob­lem with depth.

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