While the rugby fraternity clamours to be more like the All Black on the field – fundamental differences between them and us, off the field, mean that until something is done in the boardroom – no one will ever be able to keep up them with.
Give the ball more air, improve our skills, don’t kick away possession – these are all statements that are being bandied about during the 2017 instalment of Super Rugby.
All of our unions have watched their Kiwi counterparts clean up year after year and so we’re transforming the way we play to try and beat them at their own game. The Stomers are the greatest evidence of this. Whilst rugby in the Cape has always been known for it’s flair – against the Bulls, the Stormers played straight up Kiwi rugby. They ran the Bulls off their feet, tapping and going from the spot, getting the ball out wide and running every turn over – and, to their credit, so far – it’s working. Look at the Lions last year, their recipe was similar – relentless flat line attack and conditioning that made even seasoned Ironman competitors green with envy.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – it should almost certainly help us to win a couple more Super Rugby games and hey, who knows, maybe even win it all at some point in the future.
But what about at international level? This is where it gets far more complicated.
At the dawn of the Allister Coetzee era – he waxed lyrical about a “new attacking mindset” and while the 2016 Springbok season is one that should be wiped from the annals of sporting history – the reason we have had to adopt this mindset is in the hopes of beating the old foe on a regular basis. Something we haven’t been able to do since 2008.
The Kiwis are literally street blocks ahead of every one else.
While the way they play is certainly one factor – there are far bigger components to this that would not be seen on the field. Let’s look at a couple:
1. Central contracts
The All Blacks’ contracts are centralised meaning that they have one contract and that is with New Zealand rugby. This gives the All Blacks a massive say in when their players play and don’t in all domestic competitions, where their players need more in terms of fitness or skills training, how much they earn, and even, to a lesser extent, which union they play for. In SA, players are contracted to the Springboks as well as their unions and while this does mean double salaries – it also means that SA Rugby’s only influence on player management at the unions comes via nicely worded emails and relationships. Imagine Fleck is playing in the playoffs and SA Rugby asks him to rest Etzebeth – what do you think he’d say?
Linked to the above, the All Blacks are paid well. In December 2016, a NZ radio article suggested that the salary cap at the All Blacks will be lifted from $121 million to $176 million – to keep players in the country. This is stupid money – at the current exchange rate of 9.18 – this equates to R1,6 billion. I know what you are going to say – the Randela is our adversary when it comes to keeping players but in December 2015, SA Rugby PRed the fact that they are making R90 million available to keep players – obviously on top of their domestic contract – but if you compare even that to what they can earn in Europe – SA Rugby will lose every time. This needs to be double the amount or players will continuously keep looking elsewhere – like any job.
While the top two are ‘easier’ to address – this one is a grass roots problem. New Zealanders are just more passionate about the Black jersey and white fern than we are about the Green and Gold. The Springbok jersey unfortunately doesn’t have the pull it once had. While to a degree, that is professional sport, why is it that the All Blacks would choose the jersey over the dollars? It’s because it’s ingrained in them, from a young age, that playing for the All Blacks is the absolute pinnacle of the sporting profession – and it probably is right up there. The Springbok on the other hand is a brand with so much potential – it’s steeped in heritage and I get chills just thinking about what it must be like to pull on the same jersey as some of the greatest players to ever grace the rugby scene, and stand in front of your nation and sing the anthem. This isn’t being landed strong enough however.
Don’t get me wrong – all three of the above will require a MASSIVE shift in mindset but my feeling is that if we can somehow break down the walls between SA Rugby and the unions – we will be far better positioned to take our brand in to the professional era. If we don’t, we can expect the Springbok to become a jersey that is pulled on by South Africans by birth, but French by residency.
What’s your thoughts on this hairy issue? Let us know by hitting us with a tweet @leftbacks or a comment below.