Don’t call me baby and the phone call to S.A.R.U

A phone call to the South African Rugby Union yesterday soon put me in my place. I had asked whether the governing body were going to release the “Baby Boks” team for tomorrow’s final against England in the IRB Championship in Auckland and the mildly irritated correspondent answering my call said: “What is ‘baby’ about this team?”

Good point. It reminds me of some mindless song on the radio not that long ago which had this chorus from an indignant songstress: “Don’t call me baby!”

The fellow from Saru told me that the team was officially the “Junior Springboks” and that if I looked at the physical dimensions of the players, I would soon realise why they were trying to negate the popular name for the team which, he suggested, might better suit the Craven Week team, at best, never mind the Under 19s!

And there can be no argument. The under 21 players are as physically big as the senior Springboks and it shows just how far rugby has come in the professional era. The point is that players become “professional” long before they are officially earning money. Gym and supplements are a norm from the age of 14 or so and the size of the players when they are at “Baby Bok” level reflects this.

The current Junior Boks are generally bigger than corresponding Springbok players from the amateur era. It is just how it is in a time when Farmer Brown would say: “They look so strong because they eat so strong.”

The flyhalf who will captain the cause tomorrow morning at Eden Park, Handre Pollard, is a case in point. While he is no physical monster, he is certainly bigger than Morne Steyn and, more significantly, is ahead of the current Super Rugby flyhalves in Bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s esteem.

Meyer has said that Pollard is on his shortlist for next year’s World Cup, and the youngster could go from Junior Boks to the full-on Boks by the time the Rugby Championship dawns in late July, give or take the recovery of injured flyhalves such as Patrick Lambie and the eternally indisposed Johann Goosen.

In fact, Meyer in his time has picked a host of youngsters that not long ago played for the Junior Springboks, including (injured) locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, the second row many feel should spearhead the Springbok challenge at next year’s World Cup instead of the veteran partnership of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, which is the combination that played last week in Durban against Wales.

And then you get the exceptions, such as possibly Pollard, and the outstanding case of Francois Steyn, who bypassed the IRB Under 19 and 21 Championships of his time when he was picked at the age of 19 for his senior debut, by then Springbok coach Jake White.

White saw nothing “Baby” about Steyn and picked him straight from the Sharks’ Currie Cup team to the Boks in July, 2006. In November of that year, Steyn started at left wing for the Boks against Ireland in Dublin, and scored a try on debut. The following week, against England, he kicked an outrageous drop goal from his own half in a losing effort against England.

And so his international career continued … he has contributed more often than not with points on the board, never mind what he has meant to the team effort.

So how sad is it that at the age of just 27, Steyn could be lost to the Boks? There is small talk about contractual problems regarding image rights and insurance queries but these are surely problems that could have been sorted out quickly between agent and employer.

The real issue is that an over-worked player with a chronic knee injury could see no way out other than to take his own “leave” when national coach called on him to continue where provincial coach left off.

And that is why it is such a big issue – it is our first “club versus country” row and there is no sign of resolution because the Sharks, first and foremost, own Steyn, and the Boks are a secondary contributor to his salary.

BY MIKE GREENAWAY

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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