Who's got the worst union in World Rugby? Part Two - South Africa
OPINION: All is not rosy in rugby right now. Bankruptcy, mismanagement, race issues and the structure of the game itself have created turmoil in some of rugby’s most storied outposts, to the point where the future of the game in those countries is genuinely in doubt.
In this series, we are examining three of World Rugby’s governance under-achievers and asking you, the fan, which one should henceforth be labelled “World’s Worst Rugby Union”.
Part Two: South Africa
Ugh, where to begin on this one? It’s all just so disappointing.
Having risen out of the apartheid era to a stunning Rugby World Cup victory in 1995 and subsequent success in 2007, the future looked bright for South African rugby. But a series of on-field embarrassments, questions around race-based selection policies and a mass player exodus have combined to drive the once-powerful South African Rugby Union to the brink of starvation.
Recently, the Springboks have been humbled by teams it would have never looked at twice. Their record under Allister Coetzee includes a first-ever defeat to Ireland in South Africa, a first-ever away defeat to Argentina and a first-ever defeat to Italy.
From Jan de Koning at Rugby365.com, “Just as Coetzee must carry the blame (and responsibility) for his poor tactics and selections, so must the SARU bosses take responsibility for appointing Coetzee in the first place.
” They must [also] take the blame for making his only ‘performance clause’ the transformation of the team – i.e. all Coetzee needs to do is adhere to the quotas agreed to… between SARU and the government.”
De Koning is referring to the hotly-debated quota system, which is intended to promote racial diversity in South African rugby yet appears, from social media sentiment at least, to be having much the opposite effect.
This quota system in Springboks is killing our rugby in South Africa. We are over the apartheid era— Meshack Mastercool (@IamMastercool) September 16, 2017
Indeed, the level of cynicism toward SARU and its domestic counterparts is clear. The Western Province Rugby Union, for example, has been embroiled in scandal over the past year with criminal charges laid and accusations still flying. At the same time, its team has declined and a significant number of Cape rugby fans openly support the Springboks’ arch rival when the teams go head to head.
Speaking on The Short Ball recently, former All Black Andrew Mehrtens was critical of SARU, stating “Their selection policies are not conducive to creating a merit-based team and the prestige that goes along with knowing that you are your mates are the best in the country in their positions”. A provocative statement indeed, but one that a number of Springbok fans seem to share.
Whether it’s the quota system or other factors at play, South Africa has arguably overtaken the Pacific Islands as the largest contributor to other nations’ playing stocks.
When the Springboks were stunned by Japan in the opening round of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the team’s reputation took a hammering. But the Japanese weren’t just winning on the field, they were also luring some of South Africa’s best talent to the Far East in pursuit of greater financial security.
Europe has also been a major benefactor of the South African player drain. Not counting the two ex-Super Rugby teams that are now parading in front of European scouts and selectors every other weekend, dozens of would-be Springboks are playing across the UK, Ireland and France, to the detriment of the local game.
SARU’s broadcast partner, Super Sport, invests huge amounts into the game but the Rand has taken a beating in recent years, which makes the Pounds, Euros and Yen from abroad all that more appealing for players whose best earning potential may only last two or three years.
While SARU can’t be held responsible for the nation’s currency woes, it is ultimately responsible for its own player retention. Its failure to retain and grow sponsorship dollars, whilst alienating players and fans alike through one PR mess after the next, sees it a front-runner for the title of World’s Worst Rugby Union.
Please can the commentators not refer to this squad as the #Springboks. These aren’t the Springboks. Here’s a picture of them...Question have been asked @Springboks, grow a pair and answer them. Start with Allister Coetzee...#IREvRSA pic.twitter.com/IE3hvjvCSW— ThatLondonFella. (@ThatLDNFella) November 11, 2017
Still, there appears to be a slight glimmer of a rainbow of hope on the horizon, with the unanimous endorsement a fortnight ago of South Africa as the host nation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Up against the revenue-generating credentials of France and the emotional pull of Ireland, South Africa came from nowhere to get a bid in and actually come out on top. This was a baffling decision to most, but presumably, a few concerned folk at World Rugby decided that something urgent needed to be done to arrest the rapid decline in fan interest from a once-proud rugby nation. Let’s all hope it can work.