Exactly one year today the Rugby World Cup kicks off in England and wonders how well the coaches of the leading teams are sleeping as the countdown starts to the big September 18 kick-off in London.
Some are sleeping better than others, make no mistake, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is no doubt one of them, and not just because his team are just about unbeatable, give or take a draw with the Wallabies earlier this year and their last loss being against the Boks in Port Elizabeth way back in 2011.
The thing with Hansen is that besides having the reassurance that his team annually sets the standards, each season he has full control of his players and a complete evaluation of their form.
That is because only Super Rugby players in New Zealand are eligible to play for the All Blacks. If you are a Kiwi and you go overseas to earn the big bucks, you surrender any chance you might have had to play for the black jersey. It does not matter whether you are Richie McCaw or Dan Carter. You play in New Zealand or your surrender your All Blacks status.
You can come back, of course, and re-earn your right to the jersey with a season of Super Rugby, but while you are abroad your international career is on hold or over.
It used to be that way in South Arica but a decade or so ago the South African Rugby Union decided that they would pre-empt their rivals and would be the first of the major unions to select overseas-based players, the thinking being that rugby must ultimately follow the oldest professional sport in the world, soccer, and that eventually the Springboks would be a team picked from clubs all over the world.
It makes sense, and maybe Saru has got it right and eventually professionalism in rugby will go the way of soccer. Currently, 75 percent of the Argentina team is based in France.
The point is that while money will eventually guide the world’s best players to the clubs with the biggest cheques books, even leading New Zealand players, the fact is that the “amateur” Kiwis are currently keeping hold of their best players in New Zealand with the lure of the Silver Fern.
Steve Hansen has the easiest selection job in the world. He just watches Super Rugby every weekend and, as far as his players are concerned, he is comparing apples with apples. It is a piece of cake, or apple pie if you like.
So let’s ask Heyneke Meyer the rhetorical question of how easy it is for him to pick a Springbok team for the June internationals and the Rugby Championship, and even the end of year tour, when his leading contenders have been playing all over the world.
He is comparing apples with pears and bananas. Obviously he sees how the Super Rugby players are going but can he honestly pick players based in Japan on form rather than reputation?
Fourie du Preez, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fouries, Andries Bekker (what happened to him? why can the other “Japs” be picked but not him?) are not the same players they were when they join the Boks after a holiday camp eating sushi in Tokyo. South African players go to Japan because they earn big bucks and have a fat jol. They come back unfit and over-weight.
Frans Steyn is over there now. He came back from his stint in France looking like the Michelin Man and took ages to get match fit for Super Rugby standards, and when he did. He went from playing terribly to be being outstanding . Will he be a sumo wrestler when he comes back next year?
It was Jake White who three years ago sounded a warning to South African rugby. He said “Select overseas players at your peril, you are making a rod for your own back. You send the wrong message to the players, and mark my word, the average age of our players going overseas will drop year by year because they know the back door to the Boks is always open, while the Springbok coach will have no yardstick to compare players because they will be in different competitions all over the world and in different stage of fitness.”