The Springboks have just finished the first of their 2022 alignment camps, which ran from Sunday to Tuesday. The camps gave the management team a chance to liaise with players and provide information to them in order to prepare for the season, whilst also giving the rugby loving public an opportunity to see where the coaches are leaning in terms of selection and goals for the season ahead.
There has been a lot of focus this week on the Evan Roos and Marcell Coetzee snub, as both players were excluded from the alignment camps, so I won't cover that issue further here. Instead I want to just look at what Jacques Nienaber and his management team are saying, versus what we are actually seeing take place. Make no mistake, they have lead with aplomb and have earned the right to be trusted, that doesn't mean one should shy away from asking the tough questions.
The Springbok management have collectively sung the tune that form is their main criteria for selection for the Boks. It is obvious that a players domestic form is indicative of his conditioning, his abilities on the field and his general work ethic at domestic level. This is what the fans see every weekend in the players whether for their side or one of the other franchises. It is then easy to understand who, say the top 3 or 4 players are in each position. One is then able to compare this to Springbok incumbents and weigh up a prospective players chances of a Springbok call up.
However, the latest Bok alignment camp came as a bit of a shock to me. An alignment camp, as stressed by the management team, is not a squad or team selection and I understand that. However, surely when casting the net as wide as an alignment camp does, players who are in form should be included? Especially if the main selection principle as put forward is form. To say players have the chance of being looked at in further camps is all good and well, but if a player truly was part of the plans for the year, he would be included in every possible segment of preparation, to ensure he is ready if called upon for duty.
What we have come to learn however is that the Springbok management have a specific group of players in mind for the next 2 seasons leading up to the World Cup and don't intend to deviate much from those they have already provided opportunity to. To me this screams DANGER! in every sense of the word. Having so many players seemingly assured of their place in the team is likely to breed complacency and the end result of that is a team that loses a quarter final to France or the All Blacks in 2023.
It makes no sense to invite the injured Johan Goosen to camp over the in from Manie Libbok for example. Goosen is not currently playing and can offer nothing ahead of the Welsh tour, whereas Libbok is in form and may actually be needed if Jantjies and Pollard are not fully recovered by July.
I also don't understand how players like Jasper Wiese, the Du Preez twins and Rhynhardt Elstadt get a Springbok call up over the likes of Roos, Coetzee, Louw or Fourie. They don't offer anything other players can't provide and I do not understand why the SA based player then doesn't take preference? This notion seems to have flown out the window and I truly hope the youngsters who have been snubbed now, don't follow the likes of Paul Willemse and CJ Stander.
History has shown us that hanging on to squads and players from past successes doesn't directly translate into repeated success. The Boks learnt this in 2011, New Zealand learnt this in 1995 and there are numerous other examples in our sport. A competitive and evolving squad is a squad that builds a hunger and culture of success. If the Boks fail to use 2022 to blood youngster in key positions, they will come to rue that decision in France, 18 months from now.