Former Bok Captain Wynand Claassen blasts flag furore, “Chappie” kit, and rugby rules

Former Springbok Captain Wynand Claassen has charged into the South African government for its sluggishness in updating anti-doping regulations. This blunder could’ve had the Proteas and Springboks playing without their national flag. In a candid interview with Biznews, Claassen is incredulous that the Department of Culture and Sport allowed two international competitions to proceed without sorting out these crucial regulations. He doesn’t hold back on SA and World Rugby Boards either, slamming the Springboks’ “Chappie” kit worn during the Rugby World Cup. Following an open letter to World Rugby, Claassen and his “partner-in-crime,” former Bok captain Tommy Bedford, launched a blistering attack on the so-called “Gin and Tonic Board Room Brigade.” Claassen asserts that World Rugby administrators live in a different world from professional rugby’s gritty reality and that the maze of rules they have introduced drives fans and aspiring rugby stars away from the sport. For the sport’s excessive yellow and red cards, he offers a bold alternative to reduce head clashes and make the game safer for players. Claassen also calls on ex-players and seasoned captains who truly grasp the game to have a louder voice in shaping its future. Regarding his ongoing battle to declare Newlands Stadium in Cape Town a heritage site, he is not backing off, much like he did during his rugby-playing days as an indomitable eighth-man. – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 01:15 – Wynand Claassen on the last minute effort to ensure that the Boks and Proteas can play under the South African flag
  • 03:34 – The Springboks kit issue
  • 06:02 – What do you think is going wrong with the way that rugby is now being ruled
  • 10:07 – The excessive amount of red and yellow cards
  • 12:29 – The response to his open letter
  • 13:15 – Old players must have a voice
  • 15:20 – On preventing Newlands Rugby Stadium in Cape Town from being sold
  • 19:26 – Are you prepared to go to court if you don’t succeed with the minister
  • 19:32 – Conclusions

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Excerpts from the Interview

Government Dropped the Ball: Flag and Anthem, Vital Symbols for the Boks and Proteas

It appears that the Department of Culture and Sport has failed to update its anti-doping regulations, despite being warned about it a year ago in September 2022. The Minister of Sport has announced that he will appeal to avoid the sanctions, but it’s unclear if they will be successful. The Springboks are playing in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France, and missing the deadline would trigger a ban on the world champions’ flying their flag and playing the national anthem for Sunday’s match in Paris. The Springboks are the reigning world champions, and it would be an embarrassment for the country if they were to play without their flag and anthem. The Proteas have also started well in their World Cup Cricket campaign, but they have not done well in previous World Cups. Players need to hear their anthem and see people waving flags as it can be a big motivator. It’s unfortunate that the Department of Culture and Sport has not done their work, and it’s annoying that they could go that far without doing what they were supposed to do.

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SA and World Rugby should be taken to task for the “Chappie” kit

I think that World Rugby and SA Rugby (SARU) are to blame for this. The Springbok colours have been a tradition since 1906, for 117 years. Just because a sponsor paid a significant amount of money, they decided to dress us in this bubblegum toothpaste jersey. It’s shocking, absolutely shocking, and I can’t fathom how SA Rugby allowed this. World Rugby claims it’s for people who are colour-blind and need contrast; I agree with that. But the Springboks’ alternate jersey, like the All Blacks or others, should be white with the Springbok emblem, green and gold collar, and black trousers. Since 1906, that has been the alternative kit when playing against teams in green jerseys. So why did they allow this? SA Rugby must be held accountable, as they have the right history with the six pennies or gold. It’s truly shocking. I can’t imagine the All Blacks agreeing to such a change. They would play in an alternative shirt. They’ve worn white before, just like the Springboks, but it was clear white and clean, not this ‘Chappie’ type of jersey. It’s really, really shocking, and I’m surprised more ex-Springboks and the public haven’t spoken out. SA Rugby should be taken to task, as should World Rugby.

World Rugby’s ‘Gin and Tonic Boardroom Brigade’: Too Much Power, Not Enough Professional Insight

I think World Rugby and the individuals sitting in their offices, sipping on gin and tonics, and the board members, wield excessive power. They dictate the course of rugby. Just look at the sheer number of rules; there are thousands of them for rugby. The refereeing leaves much to be desired. The rules keep deteriorating. Truly, it’s a disservice to the players and the fans. Rugby is undoubtedly a professional sport, which is a positive development. Everyone earns their share. It’s a globally recognised sport. However, it often seems like those in power, the committee members, are still amateurs. It’s a professional game being overseen by amateurs, and they have the final say. That’s a problem.

Rugby should be led by former players who are also professionals, individuals who truly comprehend the game. When it comes to rule changes, they should engage coaches worldwide, captains, players, the public, and those with the knowledge. You can’t have countless rules and expect referees to manage them all. I sympathise with them. They have to make instant decisions on the field, considering the myriad of rules that could apply.

So, regrettably, rugby, which has always been a spectacular team sport, with elements like running, scrums, and lineouts, has become a stop-start. The scrums struggle to get going due to constant referee interference, and there are penalties, short-hold penalties from scrums, which disrupt the flow of the game. When you look at lineouts, even a minor deviation in the throw (not straight) results in a turnover and a scrum. But in scrums, the scrumhalf is allowed to put the ball under the feet of the lock. It’s absurd! Rugby requires a comprehensive worldwide overhaul. The game needs to grow. I have numerous friends who no longer bother to watch it on television. There’s excessive kicking, too much referee interference, the addition of TV referees, and the constant start-stop nature of the game. It’s driving people away, especially the younger generation who are losing interest in playing the sport.

Rugby’s Card Epidemic and Proposal for Safer Play to Tackle Head Clashes

It’s inherent in the nature of this contact sport that head clashes occur frequently. However, if you review the video footage, many of these clashes are unfortunate accidents. It happens when a player comes in to tackle around the chest or stomach, and the ball-carrying player ducks to evade the tackle, resulting in a head clash. Subsequently, the tackler is shown a red card. It’s a very unfortunate situation

I understand the need to protect players from such injuries, but in many cases, it’s a part of the game and not intentional. The tackler didn’t set out to make a high tackle or strike the opponent with their head; it’s about body positioning. They aimed for the chest, but the other player dipped, leading to the collision. Unfortunately, these incidents occur, and this is where the referee and TV referees should exercise their knowledge and decide that it was an accident and let the game continue.

I understand that player safety is important. Foul play should indeed be eliminated from the game; that’s crucial. However, I also believe that there are too many stoppages and penalties. On every ruck and maul, penalties can be awarded, and it’s become somewhat chaotic. Perhaps a new rule should be implemented where players are only allowed to tackle around the waist or legs, avoiding higher tackles. This way, players will understand that they should tackle lower, reducing the likelihood of head clashes. The game needs to be made safer for the players, but it must also remain an engaging spectacle for players and their supporters.

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Open letter to World Rugby, Luke Response

We received a one-sentence reply stating that they’re discussing it. They mentioned they would get back to us. It’s been over a month now, and we haven’t received any further communication. My partner-in-crime, Tommy Bedford, wrote an email, inquiring about the status of our letter and expressing our concern over the lack of response. Besides acknowledging the receipt of our letter and their intent to discuss it, we haven’t received any updates. The World Cup is halfway done and we haven’t heard anything. 

Former Rugby Stars Urged to Step Up and Shape the Sport’s Future

Ex-players don’t often get the chance to provide their input on the rules. I believe we have a right to do so. Many of the administrators, or so-called administrators, haven’t experienced rugby at the highest level. They’ve climbed the ranks because it’s a prestigious job, attending major games, sitting in pavilions, and enjoying gin and tonics. It’s quite frustrating that so few ex-players, especially those from the professional era, are willing to voice their opinions. Every voice matters, but many ex-players are connected to rugby, some through TV commentary, and they might fear stepping on toes or jeopardising their jobs. Caution prevails. 

There are very few who dare to stand up. It’s a situation that baffles me. While we often refer to former players as ‘old,’ we were part of the amateur era, but I was also involved in the professional era, serving as a manager and selector for a long time. Times change, but the fundamental aspects of the game remain. This is where ex-players can make a substantial impact and have their say. It’s a source of frustration for me, not understanding why players aren’t more willing to take a stand.

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The Battle to Preserve Newlands Stadium’s Rich Rugby Legacy

We’ve appealed to the Minister of the Western Cape, and while they haven’t rejected it, this isn’t the end of our efforts. We’re fighting for the history and heritage of rugby, dating back to the first game played at Newlands in 1890, over 130 years ago. The main argument raised by the Western Province Rugby Union is the age of the buildings. But, it’s not about the structures; it’s about the environment, the field where numerous historical events unfolded over more than a century. For instance, when Nelson Mandela inaugurated the 1995 World Cup, the entire crowd chanted ‘Nelson, Nelson, Nelson.’ These are the historical moments that define the place. It’s perplexing that some want to let it go. Newlands is a prime site and the world’s oldest stadium, witness to countless matches. Ex-players like Willie John McBride and Sean Fitzpatrick have expressed what Newlands means to them, emphasising its heritage and history. 

Converting it into a museum isn’t the answer. Instead, we should maintain it as a rugby field with reduced capacity, complemented by arts and crafts, shops, music, wine tasting, and more, turning it into a daily museum and a tourist attraction akin to the Cape Waterfront. It can house hotels, supermarkets, and numerous amenities. We can make it a viable proposition while continuing to play rugby there. Although Western Province and the Stormers have moved on, many other rugby clubs and tournaments can still find a home at Newlands. I firmly believe Newlands isn’t just a provincial heritage site; it’s a national and, in many ways, a global heritage site when you consider the history of more than 130 years. The issue lies in the Western Province Rugby’s financial struggles since 2016, and their desire to sell Newlands to alleviate their troubles. It’s disheartening, and someone must take a stand. 

The majority of the public supports our cause. Some former Springboks have criticised us, fearing that our efforts might lead to Western Province Rugby’s bankruptcy. Yet none of them have come forward to defend the heritage. I can’t comprehend why they aren’t standing up. We can’t simply accept everything; I feel passionately about this.

On the possibility of going to court, Claassen said they were keeping their options open. 

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