Elite rugby: A challenge for Africa

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THERE is no doubt that the successes of the Springboks have led to increased popularity of the sport throughout the African continent, especially the Sevens (7s) version of the game.

However, the rest of the world has not been static either. The fact that rugby development has gone a notch higher is best illustrated by the dominance of the two Oceania powers in world rugby, Australia and New Zealand, who were the finalists at 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament in England.

New Zealand, in particular, has moved ahead of the chasing group, with brilliant performances that have reduced their greatest rivals to public ridicule. The recent dismantling of the Springboks in Durban by the New Zealand All Blacks with a score of 15-57 is a huge statement of intent in rugby.

It amply demonstrates the need for other rugby nations to urgently transform their game in order to compete effectively with the All Blacks.

The score itself was much more than humiliation for the Springboks. It was complete annihilation, a demolition job well executed by the free flowing attacking rugby that is now the hallmark of the All Blacks. The fact that the All Blacks are too good for all their opponents in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is not their problem.

Rather, it is a challenge for other rugby nations to step up to the plate with improved performances through rigorous talent identification and development.

There has been a steady decline in Springbok performances since 2007 when they last won the World Cup in Paris, France. When one looks at resources available to Australia, England, France, Wales or Scotland for rugby development as compared to South Africa, then the serious reality of the development of the game comes to light.

It is no longer just a question of having colossal resources but rather how you utilize the limited resources that you have in an effective and efficient manner. Of course, money helps but it is not the only thing.

Passion and commitment are some of the critical success factors that need to be considered. South Africans are definitely doing something right which cannot just be reduced to the availability of funds only.

Other African rugby authorities especially   those in Southern Africa can and should derive great inspiration from South Africa in order to develop teams that can also beat the Springboks.

This will also strengthen South Africa as they will have to seriously compete in the region in order to qualify for the World Cup. The Springboks should not have a guaranteed slot for the various editions of the Rugby World Cup.

They should be made to fight for it. In that way when they get to the World Cup, they will have passed a rigorous test on the continent.

The development of the rugby is showing great promise on the African continent, especially with the Rugby Sevens version of the game which has taken East Africa by storm with Kenya and Uganda excelling tremendously.

However, the jewel in the rugby crown continues to be the 15s version of the game. Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have got good rugby traditions and heritage.

Invariably, what is lacking is the developmental aspect in these three countries which have got great potential to challenge the Springboks for honours in the game of rugby in the future.

There is, therefore, need for development of all aspects of the game in these countries ranging from coaches, referees and players to ensure that the game is available as a sport of choice at all levels, particularly in schools and colleges.

Without the full development of the game in schools, it will be very difficult for these countries to position themselves to challenge the hegemonic dominance of South Africa in the game.

No doubt, every patriotic and sport loving African would naturally support the Springboks but they need the burden and pressure of representing Africa removed from their shoulders to enable them to consistently perform to the best of their ability. Following from the noble and great traditions of reconciliation set by the late great statesman, Nelson Mandela, Africa has come to realize that whatever happened in the past should stay in the past.

When the Springboks trot onto the field at the World Cup, they are not representing the white minority.

They are a South African team representing ALL South Africans and by extension, all Africans.  This is the power of sport which can unite and develop diverse backgrounds.

The Springboks have no doubt set very high standards for the development of the game in Africa. It is up to the rest of Africa to respond positively to this challenge.

How the rest of Africa and particularly, Southern Africa, will rise to the occasion is entirely up to them, in terms of how the game is developed packaged and marketed.

If the same resources and enthusiasm that is invested in soccer can also be extended to rugby, then Africa should witness some exciting times in the future.

It would be a big achievement, a dream come true, if there can be another African country that can accompany the Springboks to the quarter-finals or even the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

African sport lovers are waiting patiently for that day but in the meantime, they will still be very proud to wear the Springbok colours of green and gold at the World Cup, declaring their allegiance once and for all, for the whole world to see.

Who can forget the wonderful images of the great Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar at the victory ceremony of the 1995 World Cup or even Thabo Mbeki with Springboks at the Stade de France in 2007?

There is no doubt that the Boks will undertake serious introspection after the Durban debacle and come back stronger. Viva Springboks, Viva! They are and will always be the pride of Africa.