The Offload: World Cup win shouldn’t ease concerns about Rainbow Nation
Premature deaths, racial abuse and doping allegations a cloud over South African rugby
Rassie Erasmus, the South Africa head coach, holds aloft the Webb Ellis Cup after their victory over England in the World Cup Final in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
History is initially written by the victors but that does not mean glaring concerns surrounding the Springboks should be ignored. This could be the ideal moment to put the premature deaths, racially motivated assault allegation and doping scandals under the microscope.
South Africa are deservedly world champions after crushing an England side that wiped out the All Blacks after they had annihilated Ireland.
Their stunning display of power almost overshadows all the strange, tragic and largely unexplained incidents in 2019.
We are talking about the premature deaths of Chester Williams and James Small – both heart attacks – that brought the number of dead players from the 1995 era to six.
We are talking about the ongoing investigation into allegations of assault and racial abuse, which has been strenuously denied by Eben Etzebeth.
We are talking about the stream of teenage dopers aspiring to become Springboks. We are talking about Aphiwe Dyantyi – the 2018 World Rugby breakthrough player – testing positive for anabolic steroids and metabolites on July 2nd.
“They are massive,” said Conor O’Shea. “The most powerful side I’ve seen on a rugby pitch.”
Tendai Mtawarira’s destruction of veteran England prop Dan Cole – similar to his pulverisation of Lions tighthead Phil Vickery in 2009 – ensured the capture of the William Webb Ellis trophy for a third time.
“I think the image of South African rugby is portrayed by what you see on the field,” said forwards coach Matt Proudfoot when asked about doping problems that appear to plague the Rainbow Nation. “We are tested weekly.”
Proudfoot, flanked by gargantuan Springboks, along with an obedient travelling press pack present in Disneyland that day seemed insulted by the line of questioning, as if there was no basis to ask about such an acutely topical issue.
For now, history is written by the victors.
“Pressure in South Africa is not having a job. Pressure is having a close relative who is murdered. In South Africa there is a lot of problems that create pressure. Rugby should not be something that creates pressure, rugby should create hope. We started talking about rugby being a privilege, not a burden. Hope is not talking about hope. It’s not saying you’ve got hope, tweeting a beautiful tweet. Things like that.
“Hope is when you play well and people watch the game on a Saturday and have a nice braai (barbecue) going. They feel good afterwards no matter of political or religious difference. For those 80 minutes, you agree when you usually disagree. We started believing in that and saying that is not our responsibility, that is our privilege to try and fix those things. The moment you see it that way it becomes a hell of a privilege and that was the way we tackled the whole World Cup campaign.” – Rassie Erasmus, South Africa coach.
“You can have the most investigative debrief of your game and you still don’t know what was wrong. It just happens sometimes in rugby. We are going to be kicking stones now for four years.” – Eddie Jones England coach
Number: 13 – number of days between World Cup final and kick off of the Champions Cup. No rest for the busy rugby player.
If ever there was a cautionary tale about how retired athletes remember the past in a ghost-written autobiography then Jamie Heaslip’s apology last week, via book publisher Gill, is it.
It took three weeks of reportage by Paul Kimmage in The Sunday Independent, focusing on Heaslip’s memoir reviving the story about a 2006 dope test revealing elevated levels of testosterone in his body, to deliver some clarity.
In fact, the test that caused Heaslip problems was not after an Ireland ‘A’ game at the Churchill Cup in North America in June 2006 – as the book states – but the previous April in the days leading up to Leinster losing the European Cup semi-final to Munster at Lansdowne Road.
“I apologise for the unintentional error of detail in the book, on the timing and location of the tests and the date of my return from holiday back in 2006, and am happy to clarify the matter,” said Heaslip.
Sport Ireland wrote to Heaslip in November 2006, having conducted two further tests that July and September, informing him they are “not alleging that an anti-doping rule violation has been committed by you.”
Broken MVP System:
World player of the year matters. The nominations matter. It’s the rugby version of what American sports brand Most Valuable Player. The MVP title comes with some seriously lucrative benefits. The title lasts forever. So, unfortunately, will the 2019 short list.
“It being a World Cup year as we get deeper into the tournament performances become more important,” claimed George Gregan, one of many iconic players charged with compiling a short list that, at best, leaves World Rugby wide open to ridicule. At worst it raises all sorts of concerns about how Joe Taufete’e made the final six.
The USA hooker is a very good player but Taufete’e’s six tries in 2019 came against Chile, Uruguay and Canada. That he gets categorised among the game’s greatest ahead of Maro Itoje, Fak de Klerk, Japan’s Katoro Matsushima and Fiji’s Semi Radradra beggars belief.
Springbok flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit’s monumental displays throughout the tournament understandably saw him win the most coveted individual award but what if Itoje or Owen Farrell repeated their All Black performances and England won?
The judges – who include are very own Fiona Coghlan and Brian O’Driscoll – got the nominations badly wrong. That Taufete’e can be listed but Itoje and so many others are overlooked proves that rugby’s MVP system is fractured. The players deserve to see it fixed come 2020.