Alec Hogg: Saffer Springbok XV highlights folly of SA’s home-only selections

LONDON – In today’s Daily Insider, I ventured into an area where angels fear to tread. But after reflecting on the Springboks’ humiliating 38-3 defeat by Ireland, my rational brain took over and suddenly the record loss and September’s 57-0 drubbing in New Zealand suddenly made sense. Economics explains why these kinds of outcomes will be the new normal for the Springboks – until the SA rugby establishment abandons a selection policy which is unsuited to the reality of a world where talent is mobile. I’ve no doubt there are machinations behind the scenes that practical economists like myself don’t see so are unable to compute. But what is painfully obvious is that when teams win a virtuous circles is created. And vice versa for losers. South African rugby has a lot going for it, but is consciously shooting itself in the foot. That can easily be stopped by updating the archaic selection policy – one that takes account of the globalisation of its citizens. – Alec Hogg  

By Alec Hogg 

During my school years, Grahame Thorne was among the brightest stars in the South African rugby firmament. Capped 39 times for the All Blacks, the Kiwi centre spent three years playing for Northern Transvaal and then my home province, Natal.

Some years after returning home to New Zealand, he was elected a Member of Parliament by winning a seat that his opponent’s political party had held for more than half a century.

So it was a delight to see a mail from this legend hit my inbox this morning. Thorne was responding to today’s Daily Insider where I argued that economics was the reason for the current Springbok woes. He isn’t so sure, masterfully understating that “New Zealand has lost lots of players too, but still has quite a good team.”

There is no way I’m going to attempt to debate an expert in a field where my circle of competence doesn’t even begin to stretch. But Thorne’s comments did get me researching exactly how good a team the Springboks could field if its selection criteria embraced all its global citizens.

For the purposes of this exercise I excluded the many relocated South Africans who have opted to pull on the jerseys of other national teams. Also omitted are the current Springboks, some of whom would certainly make the best possible national team. Also out is the injured flyhalf Pat Lambie (27), my birthday twin, who would be the obvious flyhalf for the Saffer Springbok XV, having signed a five year contract with Racing 92 in France.

Nothing in life is certain and sport is notorious for its unpredictability. But bookmakers pricing up on a game between them would surely make the team below hot favourites over the incumbents. Indeed, I’d expect bookies to make the Saffer Springbok XV carry a handicap of at least 15 points. And you’d definitely not see this scrum disintegrating as happened against the Irish on Saturday.

Saffer Springbok XV (with age and club in brackets): 

Backs – Willie le Roux (28 – Wasps); JP Pietersen (31 – Toulon), Juan de Jongh (29 – Wasps), Francois Steyn (30 – Montpelier), Bryan Habana (34 – Toulon); Ruan Pienaar (33 – Montpellier); Faf de Klerk (26 – Sale Sharks).

Forwards – Vincent Koch (27 – Saracens); Bismarck du Plessis (33 – Montpellier); Jannie du Plessis (34 – Montpellier); Willem Alberts (33 – Stade Francais); Andries Bekker (33 – Kobelco Steelers); Jono Ross (27 – Sale Sharks), Marcell Coetzee (26 – Ulster), Duane Vermeulen (31 – Toulon)

On the bench: Schalk Brits (36 – Saracens); Pat Celliers (30 – Leicester); Juandre Kruger (32 – Racing); Schalk Burger (34 – Saracens); Michael Rhodes (29 – Saracens);  Morne Steyn (33 – Stade Francaise); Heinrich Brussow (31 – Docomo Red Hurricanes); Zane Kirchner (33 – Leinster).

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