Why are we even surprised?

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Times are tough for rugby fans, unless you’re from New Zealand that is… The mighty All Blacks look unbeatable. They’ve swept aside their traditional rivals like yesterday’s newspaper.  The Springboks and Wallabies have no answer. The All Blacks are just too good.

Now I hear many people talk about how South Africa has politics to deal with and how Australian rugby union has to compete with ARL and NRL and whatever other funny sports they play in Melbourne.

Yes well, nothing has changed there. South African sport has always been awash with political meddling and Australian rugby has always had to take on other sports. So it isn’t that… What is it then? Why is New Zealand so much better these days?

To illustrate I’m going to use an example from my other favourite sport…

In 1997 Ferrari recruited a gentleman called Ross Brawn from Benetton racing, along with a certain young driver named Michael Schumacher.  They formed a formidable team, and despite being slower than the McLarens of the day, the team of Brawn and Schumacher ended up making Ferrari the most successful team of that era. Schumacher won many championships, all of them in fact, from 2000 to 2004. During that time Ferrari also had Jean Todt and Rory Byrne as part of their F1 team. They had recruited the best and then left them to do their job.

Mercedes didn’t even have a racing team at the time.

Fast forward to 2008. Ross Brawn was recruited as team principle for Honda racing. Honda pulled out and left Brawn a bit stranded so he said “screw this, I’ll make my own team”, which he did. And Jenson Button won the world championship with Brawn racing in 2009.

Brawn racing was then bought by Mercedes. Mercedes implemented a long term strategy to make the best of Ross Brawn’s talents and put in place a brilliant succession plan which is responsible for their fantastic success of the last few years. They’ve dominated F1 completely under the current set of regulations. Nobody else comes close.

But what of Ferrari, that great and passionate team that dominated under Ross Brawn? Well, their succession plan wasn’t very good. They’ve had more team principles in the last eight or so years than my brain allows me to remember. They haven’t managed a world title since Kimi Raikkonnen won it thanks to Alonso and Hamilton sabotaging each other in 2007, that despite having some of the best drivers of all time in Alonso and now Sebastien Vettel leading the driver team. There is meddling from management, no clear strategy and no clear idea of where the team is going or at least it appears that way.

And that is what has happened in rugby.

While the South African Rugby Union has made short sighted decisions and replaced entire coaching teams every four years, New Zealand rugby has had the foresight to groom coaches in a successful team environment. Steve Hanson worked under Graham Henry for eight years. They didn’t fire Henry after New Zealand were dumped out of the 2007 world cup, despite his head being demanded on a platter by many disgruntled fans. No, they kept him on, and what happened?

They got even better. They won the 2011 rugby world cup and then Hanson took over and won the 2015 world cup, and when he moves on they have Ian Foster, Wayne Smith, Chris Boyd all ready to take over, and now New Zealand, with close on twelve years of coaching continuity, are untouchable.

What about South Africa then?

Let’s start in 2004, I could go even back further to Nick Mallet but that would take too long and you’d all get bored.

South African rugby appointed Jake White as Springbok coach. He put together a good coaching team and built up a squad of players that ended his tenure as the most capped Springbok team ever. He made the inspired decision to appoint Jon Smit as captain. He developed world beating combinations like the lock pair of Victor Matfield and Bakkie Botha and centres Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie. He made Bryan Habana a worldwide superstar.

His pragmatic approach involved using the traditional strengths of South African Rugby to build a team that was feared the world over and emerged triumphant at the 2007 Rugby World Cup…  The sky was the limit; South African rugby was on the verge of returning to greatness.

And then the geniuses that run South African rugby fired him…

Pieter de Villiers was then appointed ahead of White’s assistant Alistair Coetzee and Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer.

The 2011 World Cup ended with South Africa losing to Australia in a game that I still consider one of the biggest robberies of all time. Referee Bryce Lawrence lost his contact lenses (and his mind) and completely missed a blatant shoulder charge into Heinrich Brussow’s ribs by Dan Vickerman and ALL of the rules pertaining to the breakdown area allowing Australia to spoil and break every rule known to man with being penalized.

But I digress. South Africa didn’t win the world cup…

And then the geniuses that run South African rugby fired Pieter de Villiers.

Enter Heyneke Meyer, the man who coached the Bulls from Pretoria to unprecedented success.

2015 world cup, Springboks finished third, narrowly losing to New Zealand in the semi-final.

And then the geniuses that run South African rugby fired / forced Heyneke Meyer to resign and took their sweet time appointing his successor. The same Alistair Coetzee that had been Jake White’s assistant, the same man they should have appointed in 2008…

Every time SARU makes a decision, the Springboks had to start again. New coach, new assistant coaches, new gameplan, new captain…

So, like Ferrari, the foundation for unprecedented success was laid, but thanks to short sighted decisions and meddling from people who have no business running a corner café, never mind a national rugby union. South African rugby has gone backwards.

It’s no wonder people in New Zealand are lamenting the lack of competition. They’ve moved forwards but everyone else has either stayed still or gone backwards.  There is no continuity in South African rugby coaching and zero foresight. The people running it are buffoons and are frankly not capable of doing any better. Had they kept Jake White as coach, South Africa could well have won two more world cups and kept pace with the forward thinking New Zealanders. Instead they replace coaches more often than most people replace cars and then give those coaches impossible to achieve performance criteria, whilst limiting their decision making ability.

It doesn’t matter who they appoint. It is the organisation that is stifling progress. It is the organisation that is holding them back. It is the organisation that simply doesn’t know what the hell they are doing.

 

How can South Africa make people stay here, and convince those that have left to come back?

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I’m going to veer a bit off topic here so please forgive me in advance… Not that anyone reads my blog but still, better safe than sorry.

There is plenty of anger, frustration, vitriol and associated malice in South Africa, between white and black, rich and poor, Jo-burgers and Capetonians and the ANC and everyone who doesn’t like it.

Why? Well I could go on about history but there are enough people talking about that. I could go on about politics, corruption, crime, murder and apathy but there are enough people talking about that too.

South Africa is an amazing place, I love it here, and it makes me sad that so many people are leaving. Just last week a couple my wife and I are good friends with announced their intent to leave for Australia because of a violent break-in and the associated trauma. They are going to leave a great life behind. They’re both successful business people who contribute a great deal to the country. They are a loss to South Africa.

So what I am going to write about today is –

How can South Africa make people stay here, and convince those that have left to come back?

I can only write from a white middle class perspective but I’ll try covering all the bases.

We pay taxes, whether it is income tax, VAT, fuel levies, eToll fees, company tax or dividends tax. As such we are economically active members of society. We do this in return for the right to live here and in exchange for services government is obligated to provide.

That doesn’t mean I want to benefit more from said taxes than people who are poor, unemployed or otherwise unable to do the same. They are guaranteed all the same rights and are due the same services as I am and they need the benefits of my tax more than I do, so that they can have a roof over their head, food, and so that their children are educated giving them the tools to uplift themselves and their families.

However, for me to stay or to convince me to come back if I’ve left, which I haven’t but bear with me, all government needs to do is as follows (and I think you’ll find most of these in the constitution by the way)

–          Most importantly… Make it safe for me, my family and friends to live here – I don’t want to have to buy a gun and learn hand to hand combat. I’m an accountant not a soldier. I don’t want to have to worry about my wife being kidnapped when she goes jogging or us being shot for our cellphones by drug addled youths in our own home, which we paid for and pay rates every month for the services we get from the council.

–          Give the police the capacity to keep South Africa safe from criminals. Punish the violent offenders, put criminals to work growing food for the less fortunate, do something! If you get that right we’ll be your biggest supporters!

–          In my opinion the primary role of government is to run the country so that we, the citizens, can go about our daily lives in blissful ignorance. I don’t want have to worry about taxi strikes, racist murders, food and energy security, water security, road maintenance, corrupt police or local councilmen, illegal immigrants etc.

–          The government should take care of all that shit without me even knowing about it, so that I can concentrate on my job in the country, which is to work for a living, so that I can pay income tax, buy goods and services which contribute VAT to the fiscus, put petrol in my car so that my fuel levy can pay for roads and road accident victims, or start a company which will pay corporate tax and will employ people who will in turn pay income tax, buy goods and services which contribute VAT to the fiscus and put petrol in their cars to contribute to the fuel levy.

–          In short, in order for me to stay here, or to come back here if I’ve already left, all the government has to do is its JOB! Keep me safe, use my taxes to take care of all the things that I really don’t have time to do, and have paid you to do in the first place.

 

  1. Keep me, my family and my friends safe
  2. Train and pay the police properly
  3. Keep the lights on
  4. Keep the water running
  5. Take care of the poor and unemployed so that they are not driven to crime
  6. Put convicted criminals to work
  7. Take care of your business without bothering me with it

 

 

The Next Big Thing… Or is it?

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There is a young man called Max Verstappen making waves in Formula 1. Not only is he a very good racing driver and a dream for any marketing team, he is also only 17 years old. People are already calling him a future world champion. He even has a new, if completely unsuitable, nickname. They’re calling him “Mad Max” because of an accident caused by a Frenchman called Grosjean. He is the next big thing! I think it is a bit early to tell really. Sure he’s definately talented, but his temperament is yet to be truly tested. He’s off to a good start though. At 17 I was still sneaking out to smoke Chesterfields and falling off my 50cc-popcorn-machine-with-wheels-motorbike.

England cricket are also thrilled to have a new star in Ben Stokes. He isn’t 17 but he is still quite young, and they are calling him the next, next, next Ian Botham, after Fred Flintoff (the first next Ian Botham) and a few others. He is their new hero after playing a large role in winning a test match against the might cricketing nation of New Zealand!

In South Africa we’ve had a few “next big things!”

Derrick Hougaard was the next Naas Botha.

Daryll Cullinan was the next Graham Pollock.

Guthro Steenkamp was the next Os du Rant.

Mfuneko Ngam was the next Alan Donald.

Eben Etzebeth is the next Bakkies Botha.

Butch James was, well, Butch James was the first Butch James and I doubt his like will be seen again anytime soon.

Why is that whenever a sparkling young talent comes along we feel the need to label him or her “the next (Insert name of famous ex sportsperson here). Why can’t they just be themselves!

Ian Botham was a legendary English cricketer. Why do anyone the disservice of calling them “The Next Ian Botham?”

So often these young stars get these labels and then fade from prominence under the weight of undue pressure and media scrutiny, instead of just being allowed to develop into the player that they were destined to be in the first place.

Derrick Hougaard springs to mind as a great example. He had all the tools to be the next Naas Botha, except one. He wasn’t Naas Botha. Naas Botha had, and still has, unshakeable belief in Naas Botha. In his mind Naas Botha is invincible; Naas can do anything, knows everything and will win everything simply because that is what Naas Botha does. Derrick was young and, by all accounts, a remarkably humble nice young lad. He was thrown head first into a rugby world cup, and then thrown a hospital pass that brought upon him the wrath of a man known as the chiropractor because of his ability to re-arrange spines in tackles. Brian Lima tackled Derrick so hard he’s probably still go bruises ten years later. Derrick wasn’t the next Naas Botha, nobody can be the next Naas Botha.

Similarly, nobody can be the next Bakkies Botha. Off the field he is a humble Christian man who lives his faith as well he can. I’ve had friends approach him for photos and he is always accommodating. On the field though, he is an uncompromising force of sheer brutality. He is the enforcer and will step back for no man. Eben Etzebeth, again, has all the tools to emulate the great Bakkies. He is big and strong and also plays lock. But that is where the similarity ends. They’re different players with different personalities. It is unfair to compare one to the other, because it does their unique talents and traits the ultimate disservice.

I say let the young players be themselves. Handre Pollard is the next Handre Pollard. He is not the next Dan Carter for heaven sakes. Just let them play the game they love without the pressure of trying to be the next whoever. I suspect they will surprise us all. I suspect people will say. “That Handre Pollard is something hey. I bet if a young Dan Carter saw him play he’d want to be just like him!”

TRANSFORMERS – MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

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We’ve all seen the movies, cars that transform into huge battling robots. There are good transformers, and bad transformers, Autobots and Deceptacons, one side heroic, the other megalomaniacal and power hungry. I remember watching the cartoons when I was younger and I think they were a far more accurate reflection of what the creators of the show wanted to portray.

They touched more on the moral ambiguity and also on the sometimes sticky topic of having a villain more powerful than the hero. Generally the Autobots prevailed not because they were more powerful, but because they worked as a team, whereas the Deceptacons were fractured, filled a with selfish desire for power and as likely to turn on each other as they were to fight the enemy Autobots for whatever it was they were after that week.

Transformation is South African sport echoes the themes so effectively revealed in those Transformers cartoons. On the one side, you have the people who genuinely want our sport to transform for the good of all the people, probably best illustrated by people like Ali Bacher, and then on the other side, you have those that push the transformation agenda simply to further their own ends, and are as likely to turn on each other as they are to turn on a sports team that is “too white”.

From my perspective, I think transformation in sport is a wonderful thing. Nothing fills me with more pride than watching a truly united South African team made up of all the races in our country fighting it out together against whomever they’re playing, if those players are picked on merit.

In my mind, however, I can think of nothing more unfair than picking a player of colour as a quota selection. It is unfair on the player, it is unfair on the team and it is unfair on the fans.

The details around the 2015 cricket world cup semi-final are sketchy at best. Rumour has it that Haroon Lorgat, that sycophantic blood-sucking cricket administrator, sent a text message overruling the Proteas selectors. Not only was that message entirely unnecessary, as all the players at the world cup were selected on merit, it was downright disrespectful to all of the South African players, selectors and fans and, if the rumours are true, Haroon should be fired and flogged by a hundred ten year olds for sabotaging their heroes in their mission and messing with things best left alone.

In the end, Vernon Philander, nursing an injury and with little playing time under his belt, was selected ahead of Kyle Abbot. Vernon has never been a quota player, and to paint him as such does him the ultimate disservice Mr Lorgat. You are a Deceptacon of the highest order, using the sensitive issue of race and transformation to further your own agenda and you should be ashamed.

This is the issue I have with transformation in South African sport. Nobody can deny that transformation in sport is a good thing. It means more players to choose from, it means more people from all different backgrounds playing sport and learning all that it has to teach about teamwork, pride, playing for your fellow man, discipline and all of those good things.

When it used as a political tool it becomes something ugly. It tears at the heart like an angry divorce between common sense and necessity. It builds up the very barriers it is intended to tear down. Instead of fostering unity, it ignites distrust and enmity. If we as South Africans work as a team to encourage natural transformation in our sport then success is certain, but if we, like the Deceptacons, turn on each other at the first sign of trouble, if we stab each other in the back on the eve of battle just to win some political points, if we put our own needs before that of the players and fans, then, I’m afraid animosity and spite will infect our sport and slowly but surely turn it into something horrible.