Boks don’t mind nomads
Touring squad knew all along that some players would come and go
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.