Columnists 8.9.2017 10:23 am

‘Corny’ team culture should be Springboks’ only currency

The Springboks should rely on a culture of superstars but a superstar culture. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images.

The Springboks should rely on a culture of superstars but a superstar culture. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images.

With economic factors against them, the national side is not only good at being a tight-knit unit. It needs spirit to survive.

In the world of professional sport, concepts like team spirit are unfashionable.

With the amount of technology at everyone’s disposal, it’s far cooler to analyse performances, game-plans and economic spin-offs.

It also fits in with modern sport’s narrative that winning is all that matters.

Also read: Springboks: Franco Mostert’s missing but there’s a reason

It’s rather ironic then that the Springboks’ winning recipe in 2017 is very much down to a healthy team ethic.

Of course the coaching inputs of Franco Smith and Brendan Venter have made a massive difference but virtually every Springbok who’s talked to the media this year has mentioned the team culture.

A boring theme, yes, but can we really complain?

Funnily enough, you can actually argue analytically that South Africa rugby needs to use something as “corny” as team culture to survive in a competitive environment.

The Lions were the first team to realise that.

By mixing a family environment – admittedly with players who share the same values – with excellent coaching, the union gradually developed players of international calibre who, crucially, don’t get poached by rich overseas clubs.

It’s a brilliant business model.

Buy promising players rather cheaply, develop them and get at least five years of service out of them because they find the vibe too lekker and successful to leave.

The Springboks are beginning to realise the fruits of this approach too.

One has to be realistic that Saru’s new regulations that only overseas-based players with 30 caps or more will limit the Springboks’ star power.

After all, it’s invariably the flashy players that get snapped up first by foreign clubs.

So, if you’re operating in a system where your locally based Springboks candidates are decent rather than outrageously talented, you can’t rely just on the inherent skills of your players.

That’s where good coaching and confidence from a healthy team culture becomes vital.

It’s magical how those two factors can make a decent player perform better than he theoretically should have.

I’m not saying the current crop of Springboks isn’t a fine group of players (men like Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel, Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth are supremely gifted), it just lacks star power.

And that’s really okay.

The best Springboks sides of the modern era have been the one’s that didn’t boast celeb status, the 1995 World Cup-winning side of Kitch Christie and Nick Mallett’s world record-equalling vintage of 1998.

In the current side, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Elton Jantjies and Franco Mostert could become world-beaters exactly because they weren’t burdened with the label of being stars.

That’s how the South African way should work.

Heinz Schenk: Online Sports Editor.

Heinz Schenk: Online Sports Editor.

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