Global Boks should be selected to play for SA
ONE of the lasting memories of the Springboks’ tour to Europe this month will be the sight of a beaming, almost speechless Jean Deysel when he spoke to the media for the first time after being included on the bench for last week’s Test against Italy.
He went on to win his first cap a few days later, playing for 25 minutes in Udine. He’d become a Springbok – the dream of every rugby player in South Africa.
Today against Ireland here, Dewald Potgieter may, too, become one of the chosen few.
Playing for your country remains a special thing – it is, after all, the goal every sportsman aspires to. For some it happens quickly, for others it is a grind and then there are those who don’t stand a chance – or so it seemed a year ago.
For some time now, the Springbok coach has opted to ignore the talents of those rugby players who decide to ply their trade abroad. There are hundreds of South Africans playing their rugby in England, Ireland, Wales, France, Italy and elsewhere.
Up to three weeks ago the likes of CJ Van der Linde (Leinster), BJ Botha (Ulster) and Jean de Villiers (Munster) had written off their Bok careers – for the time being anyway.
But in the last number of days all three have been picked to play for the Boks after injuries ravaged the side.
They are the fortunate ones because in seasons past the Bok boss would not have looked their way.
Not so long ago John Smit and Victor Matfield returned to South Africa from France where they were playing for Clermont and Toulon respectively just to be part of the Bok set-up under Peter de Villiers.
Right now Frans Steyn is out of the picture because he is playing at Racing Metro in France – and there are plenty others like him.
But the call-ups of Van der Linde, Botha and De Villiers suggests the current Bok coach is not completely averse to selecting men who don’t earn their keep inside South Africa’s borders.
While these men may have been picked under special cir- cumstances, what it has shown is that South Africans playing their rugby abroad are not forgotten men. And it is this that keeps the flame burning of a return to the Boks on a permanent basis; and possibly getting into the mix for the World Cup in two years time. Botha may have earned only his 18th Test cap against Italy last week, but says it was as special as the first time he pulled on the green and gold.
“Playing for your country remains the ultimate goal for every rugby player. This weekend again it will be special, as it was last week,” said Botha.
“I want to play for South Africa, but I don’t know what the future holds,” he added when asked if he thought this would be a once-off.
Botha’s contract with Ulster ends in June next year and he’s yet to decide whether he’ll stay on or return to South Africa. But he knows he wants to be part of the Bok team at the World Cup in 2011.
“It’s a goal I want to go for,” he said, “but I also know to be there I will have to be part of the building process.”
Which means a return to South Africa is the only option. Or is it? Bok boss De Villiers, when quizzed on the matter, simply said: “We will always look inside first (that is for players who are based in South Africa) and then we’ll go outside. We all know what happened to our front rankers on this tour, with all the injuries, so we opted for Van der Linde and Botha because they were close by.”
Jean de Villiers though is another matter. He is also close by and knows the Bok setup well, having played for them just months ago, but he was called up to sit on the bench today when the coach could have picked Jongi Nokwe or Francois Hougaard – players part of the touring squad who play their rugby in South Africa. What is the message the Bok coach is sending out?
Only time will tell whether what’s happened on this tour, is the start of an acceptance that rugby is now a global game and that players should be allowed to play where they want, but still be eligible for their country. How strong would the Boks be if De Villiers picked whoever he wanted, no matter where they play?
BACK WHERE HE BELONGS? Centre Jean de Villiers at a Bok training practice in Dublin this week. The debate over whether foreign-based players should be eligible for South Africa continues.