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