Thursday, 14 June 2012
SANZAR: Rugby's Commodity Traders
Yet for all this, the underlying feeling of this tour is not one of jubilant excitation. Incoming tours have a nostalgic place in the hearts of all rugby lovers, the enemy coming into our yard etc, etc. It heralds a siege mentality, a stubborn defense of all things Springbok. But the current tour just seems a further extension of an inexorable rugby schedule that is becoming more and more ludicrous as the years progress. The physical toll of such a grueling schedule seems to be a minor footnote in a sleek money generating machine intent on maximizing profits. This rapid commodification of players threatens to undermine the integrity of the game and turn the once sacred honor of representing your country into yet another hard slog at the office.
The extension of the Tri-Nations into the awkwardly named Rugby Championship actually signals a move with some tangible rugby-based benefit. The inclusion of Argentina only serves to embolden the dominance of Southern Hemisphere rugby over the North. Look at New Zealand’s dismantling of the Irish. Or the Welsh defeat against an injury-ridden Australian team. And of course, South Africa’s superiority over the English (even if it was not reflected on the scoreboard). Southern Hemisphere rugby is on top. Period. That argument is about as redundant as the battle for the Springbok number 15 jersey should be (it should belong to Lambie who gets his crack this weekend with Kirchener’s absence due to injury). Yet it seems that Sanzar is not content with the clear dominion that its unions have in world rugby.
While the presence of the English national team should be a celebratory event, it ultimately serves as another obstacle in an unending barrage of rugby that the players have to negotiate rather than enjoy. I’m sure that the three debutants from Saturday would extol the undying pride of performing for their country, and their exuberance is a key addition to the fabric of the national team. Yet one can’t help but feel that the three test series is something of an extremely elevated training session for the upcoming Four Nations tournament.
This weekend’s match should result in another South African victory, but that is to be expected. South Africa stands to win very little in these exchanges other than demonstrating their clear superiority over a young and building team. If they play with anywhere near the drive and aggression they displayed in the second half in Durban, they should win the game comfortably and extend their winning streak over England to 9. This could free Meyer to try some new combinations in the third test match as a means of final preparation for the Four Nations tournament. Whatever those combinations will entail is completely contingent on what happens in the latter stages of the Super Rugby tournament. Yes, Super Rugby. You could be forgiven for thinking that might be over, but there’s more.
The much maligned extension of the Super Rugby franchise has taken what already was the toughest rugby tournament in the world and needlessly expanded upon it in search of greater profit margins. The implementation of national conferences not only unnecessarily extends the competition; it also has a fundamental flaw in its make-up that allows inferior teams to qualify over those with more log points. At the end of the day the fat cats in Sanzar couldn't really care less about the physical capitulation of the players. As long as the coffers are filled the players are really just glorified life-support machines.
Interrupting this overblown tournament for the Inbound Tours completely disrupts certain teams’ progress and further tarnishes the validity of the new venture. Momentum swings, players get injured. The inexplicably overlooked players of the Stormers franchise can feel some sense of justification knowing that for the main they will have the same squad of players for the business end of the tournament. Another troubling dimension of this expansion is the increased number of derby confrontations between the teams. Derbies are notoriously physical affairs (just think of the Stormers clash with the Cheetahs at Newlands that resulted in a mass brawl earlier in the season). The extension of the tournament must affect the players, and who better to take the frustration out on then your sworn enemies. These derbies become more heated as lines of provincial loyalty are drawn and the national team could potentially be destabilized. Perhaps there is an underlying logic to Meyer’s preference for Bulls and Sharks players, a method of cohesion and tested combinations that has seen some unfortunate exclusions in the squad, such as that of Stormers’ blind side flanker Siya Kolisi.
I don’t believe we will know the extent of this effect on the players until the Four Nations begins. Another tournament that has to be factored into the equation is the Absa Currie Cup. Purists consistently bemoan the lack of the Springbok’s presence in the country’s leading domestic competition, and it seems as if that is not going to change any time soon. With the huge pressures of Super Rugby and international rugby it is very unlikely that any of the regular Springboks will feature regularly throughout the oldest Rugby competition in the world. That is quite a shame. The juggernaut that is the Super Rugby tournament has rendered the Currie Cup redundant. Just look at the dismal performance of last season’s Currie Cup champions, the Lions, in this year’s edition of Super Rugby. It is no longer an integral part of South African rugby’s fabric, but rather a shadow tournament for nurturing tomorrow’s stars.
It is not all doom and gloom. At least in Meyer the South African public has someone they can instantaneously believe in; a man built on solid rugby principles. If there is anyone who can guide the Springboks through the potentially hazardous journey that is the modern rugby player’s schedule, then I can think of no one better suited for the task. Just prepare for a long, bumpy ride.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook now!
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this one is going to play out.