Boks don’t mind no­mads

Tour­ing squad knew all along that some play­ers would come and go

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

HAD FOURIE du Preez’s sud­den de­par­ture from the Spring­bok tour hap­pened in a pre­vi­ous era it might well have caused rifts within the team, but sources within both the man­age­ment and play­ing group in­sist there is no dan­ger the the cur­rent tour­ing party will be ripped apart by the per­cep­tion that some play­ers can pick and choose when to be in­volved.

On the con­trary, the de­ci­sion to re-en­gage Du Preez and the other mem­bers of the Boks’ so- called Ja­panese con­nec­tion, JP Pi­etersen and Jaque Fourie, was taken in con­sul­ta­tion with the play­ers.

“I can tell you there is noth­ing that we do that is not put to the play­ers’ com­mit­tee first and we only pro­ceed if ev­ery­one agrees,” said team man­ager Ian Schwartz.

Coach Heyneke Meyer was crit­i­cised last year when in the weeks af­ter his ap­point­ment to the job in place of Peter de Vil­liers he ap­pointed a man­age­ment made up mainly of peo­ple he had worked with at the Bulls.

Yet, while the coach is far from weak – and there is no ques­tion of the play­ers run­ning the team – it has be­come clear over the past few months that Meyer is big on par­tic­i­pa­tory man­age­ment, and healthy de­bate within the group is a pil­lar of the team cul­ture.

When the news of Du Preez’s de­par­ture was fil­tered through to the trav­el­ling me­dia by press re­lease last Sun­day night – we had just got back from Mur­ray­field and were out hav­ing din­ner in Ed­in­burgh – the gen­eral re­ac­tion was one of in­dig­na­tion.

“It seems some play­ers are more equal than oth­ers” and “he’s do­ing a Jac­ques Kal­lis by pick­ing and choos­ing his games” were just some of the com­ments elicited around the ta­ble by the e-mail that had been picked up on some­one’s cell­phone.

And that re­ac­tion was per­fectly un­der­stand­able. Meyer has spent so much time de­fend­ing his con­ti­nu­ity in se­lec­tion pol­icy on the ba­sis that com­bi­na­tions need to spend a long time to­gether be­fore they be­come func­tional, that it does seem hyp­o­crit­i­cal of him to al­low Du Preez, Pi­etersen and Fourie to come and go as they please.

The man­age­ment has in­sisted that the Du Preez sit­u­a­tion was dis­cussed way back when talks about his re-en­gage­ment were first held. The un­der­stand­ing, ap­par­ently, was that he would be avail­able un­til af­ter the Ed­in­burgh Test and then would be re­turn­ing to Ja­pan.

Why they had ne­glected to in­form the me­dia of that de­ci­sion, if it was the case, is a ques­tion worth ask­ing. There was no men­tion of Du Preez only play­ing two matches when the tour squad was an­nounced or at the press con­fer­ences in the early part of the trip. If Jano Ver­maak was go­ing to be on the bench for to­day’s match here in Paris, wouldn’t it have made sense for him to be part of the tour?

The an­swer to that last ques­tion, and this comes from the man­age­ment, is that Ver­maak hasn’t played much rugby lately and he needed game time. He is based in France, so link­ing him up with the squad wasn’t a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal ob­sta­cle. On a sim­i­lar tack, play­ers based in France not se­lected for this tour, such as Chili­boy Rale­pelle and Juan­dre Kruger, are still con­sid­ered to be quasi-mem­bers of the squad. They are re­place­ments based nearby and are on standby to be called in at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

The France and Eng­land-based play­ers, though, aren’t the prob­lem. They are avail­able to play when­ever the Boks play be­cause their clubs au­to­mat­i­cally re­lease them when they are called up. They are re­quired to do that by the IRB’s reg­u­la­tion nine, which stip­u­lates that no club or prov­ince can stand in the way of a player who is se­lected for his coun­try dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional win­dow.

The Ja­pan-based play­ers are a prob­lem be­cause their clubs ig­nore the IRB reg­u­la­tion and draw up con­tracts with the play­ers that ei­ther bar them com­pletely from in­ter­na­tional rugby, or reg­u­late the num­ber of times they can go back to the home­land to rep­re­sent their coun­try.

That is why Du Preez was able to play the home leg of the Rugby Cham­pi­onship, but not the away leg. Up un­til a month ago, cen­tre Fourie’s in­ter­na­tional ca­reer had been put com­pletely on hold be­cause when he signed up for a ridicu­lous amount of money, he agreed that he would be avail­able for all of his club’s games.

Pi­etersen’s sit­u­a­tion is slightly dif­fer­ent in that he has a deal not com­pletely un­like that of the Storm­ers fly­half Peter Grant, who is avail­able to play Su­per Rugby but not Cur­rie Cup. Pi­etersen is barred from play­ing in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship games, but can do the end-ofyear tour, and will be play­ing for the Sharks in Fe­bru­ary.

As he will be play­ing high-in­ten­sity Su­per Rugby games for half a year, Pi­etersen’s se­lec­tion might be the least prob­lem­atic of the three. While much was made of the try that clinched the game against Wales in which Du Preez and Fourie com­bined bril­liantly, Fourie and Pi­etersen did look sig­nif­i­cantly off the pace. Meyer tac­itly ad­mit­ted that af­ter the Scot­land game when he agreed there had been a mas­sive im­prove­ment.

The prospect of their pe­ri­odic re­turns to the green and gold ne­ces­si­tat­ing a form of eas­ing-in pe­riod on each oc­ca­sion is a mas­sive stum­bling block go­ing for­ward. But Meyer re­mains firmly com­mit­ted to play­ing the trio when he can be­cause they will all be avail­able for the World Cup, and they will be avail­able for the year build­ing up to the global show­piece event.

Giv­ing the likes of Du Preez game-time now en­sures that he will re­tain his groove and keep him in the mix, and the man­age­ment ar­gu­ment is that the Ja­pan-based play­ers’ ab­sences do pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity to grow depth and ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ers who stand in while they are away.

In pre­vi­ous Bok squads, where there was much ego and in­di­vid­ual in­se­cu­rity present, the com­ing and go­ing would have been prob­lem­atic. But the cur­rent Bok group re­ally does ap­pear to have bought into the Meyer cul­ture, which places team needs above in­di­vid­ual needs, and what helps is that he has been open and hon­est with each player on where he stands and what the plan is.

So while Bok fans may strug­gle to get used to Du Preez play­ing in some games and then miss­ing oth­ers, it isn’t a prob­lem for the play­ers. They will buy into what­ever is needed to make a World Cup vic­tory in 2015 a re­al­is­tic prospect.

FOR­EIGN LE­GION: Fourie du Preez, play­ing for his Ja­panese club side Sun­tory. There’s a cur­rent be­lief among many that the Bok scrumhalf – not al­ways avail­able for the na­tional side – is pick­ing and choos­ing when to rep­re­sent South Africa, and where.

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