Global Boks should be se­lected to play for SA

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - JAC­QUES WESTHUYZEN

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?

GALLO IM­AGES

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.

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