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The Springbok conspiracy theory raises an awkward point

By Daniel Gallan
Handre Pollard of South Africa looks on during the South Africa men's national rugby team training session at Cardiff Metropolitan University on August 14, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Springboks’ World Cup squad announcement ceremony last week was, let’s face it, pretty ridiculous. Hulking men in tightly tailored green blazers walked across a stage, kneeled down on a cushioned pedestal as an elderly diplomat placed an ill-fitting and tasseled cap on their heads.

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Were these rugby players? Or were they brave knights swearing solemn oaths before galloping forth to conquer a foreign land? Honestly, when it comes to the Springboks’ self-aggrandizing mythology it’s often hard to tell the difference.

Still, for anyone who has an affinity for the side, who have gulped down the rainbow-coloured Kool-Aid and who believe, deep in their bones, that this cluster of highly trained athletes represents something greater than themselves, greater than us all, it was difficult not to feel at least a pang of pride as we wished them all safe passage.

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Which is why a percolating conspiracy has soured the atmosphere around the camp. Like a noxious plume from some stinking latrine, it has settled on what was otherwise a heartwarming, albeit silly, leaving party. What’s more, you don’t have to wear a tin-foil hat to see some truths on the wall covered with interconnecting red strings.

The theory goes that Jacques Nienaber’s selection of four scrum-halves in his squad of 33 is simply a smokescreen. One of these scrappy 9s is not like the rest. Instead this fourth wheel on the tricycle has been drafted in the group to merely make way for Handre Pollard once the Boks’ leading fly-half is fully fit.

That means that one of Faf de Klerk, Grant Williams, Cobus Reinach or Jaden Hendrikse donned a dapper green jacket with gold trim, walked across a spotlight stage in front of a cheering audience, bowed his head and stood for the cameras knowing that he was little more than cannon fodder.

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Of course, this could all be nonsense. But it makes at least partial sense, right? After all, Nienaber and his coaching staff are under no obligation to take the named 33 to the World Cup. All squads must be finalised a week before each team’s opening fixture and South Africa only kick-off their title defence on 10 September when they play Scotland in Marseille.

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That glitzy event with the cushioned pedestal? That was all pomp. South Africans love waving white handkerchiefs by the docks as our chosen representatives travel the world with our interests at heart. When they lose we become introspective. When they win, and return home with the spoils of their triumph, we hoist them high and take a day off work.

That’s all well known. But this conspiracy covers new ground that, if true, raises two important points.

The first is that ring-fenced squads named for tours, series or tournaments are an anachronism. They have their roots in a bygone age when travelling overseas required the use of a steam engine on a large ship. That is no longer the case. If every member of South Africa’s front row was suddenly struck low by food poisoning due to a dodgy cheesecake smuggled in by Ox Nche, Nienaber could swiftly call upon a string of reserves and fly them over pronto.

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Pollard has travelled to Europe with the squad. So have four other players including fellow World Cup winner Lukhanyo Am. Their presence suggests that not all is what it might seem at first glance and Nienaber himself has intimated that both could feature in France.

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The second point is contingent on the conspiracy actually being true and that this Springboks side and the coaching brains trust is far more ruthless than we might have thought. Nianaber and his old mate, Rassie Erasmus, can often come across as loveable uncles you’d want to hang out with at a braai. There they are dancing barefoot on the veranda, slipping you a double brandy and coke while your father isn’t looking, regaling you with tales of their travels across the pubs of Limerick and Cork.

Of course, they’re so much more. It’s easy to overlook the Springboks’ strike rate at World Cups. Three wins from seven entries is a better percentage than even the All Blacks. South Africa might enter most tournaments as outside bets but write them off at your own peril. Sure, they’ve lost to New Zealand, Ireland and France over the past 18 months but they’ll be incredibly hard to beat and, when games reach their sticky end and there’s little more than a drop-goal or penalty separating the sides, that muscle memory could be the difference.

Handre Pollard
Handre Pollard of Leicester Tigers looks on following the Gallagher Premiership Semi-Final match between Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers at the AJ Bell Stadium on May 14, 2023 in Salford, England. (Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

There is a catch. If the conspiracy theory is true, and one of the scrum-halves is used as human meat, then the rest of the team, not least Pollard, will feel even more pressure to win. They’d relinquish the narrative that this is a team that places its members front and centre and that they’re an organisation that champions the man inside the jersey. How will they square this in the documentary? Will Erasmus shed a tear for the jettisoned scrumhalf? Will Nienaber lament his own cruelty?

Nienaber has sought to pour cold water on the rumours. “How can you pick a guy in your World Cup squad and then tell him, ‘listen, fake an injury, we want to get another guy in’?” He said recently. “It’s mad! We would never do that.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

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Wins
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“If there are no injuries between now and the end of the tournament this whole 33 that flies out today will be the 33 that flies back.”

The coach’s words have done little to quiet the rumblings from fans. Talk is that some supporters are coalescing into an informal, leaderless group called S-Anon and are producing green caps embroidered with the slogan, ‘Make South African Rugby Great Again’, though MSARGA doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

At the heart of this story is a young man who should be revelling in one of the greatest weeks of his life but is instead wondering if he is an imposter. Whether or not you hope that Pollard makes a return, or believe him to be a crucial cog in the Springboks machine, make sure you spare a thought for whoever lands up being the fall guy.

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Comments

15 Comments
G
Gordon 336 days ago

This is such a disappointing article loaded with repetitive drivel. It is impossible to take this sort of rugby writing seriously. Does he really know anything of the discussions that take place between coaches and players? This reads like petty gossip that belongs in a different place, perhaps where you will find "a noxious plume from some stinking latrine".

S
Stephen 337 days ago

What nonsense. Rugbypass loves it's click bait. Maybe it's time to stop reading this junk.

D
Dave 337 days ago

What a terrible article. Reads like a Grade 7 trying to sound like a professional writer and dismally failing. The 4 scrumhalves isn't some elaborate smoke screen...the competition between the 4 of them has been very tight..there was still the Welsh game and the NZ game as opportunities for them to play themselves in, so instead of dropping one of them now when Pollard isn't fit, Jacques is giving them a chance to still make the side before he names Pollard. It's not rocket science you utter moron. And here's another thing...supporting your national side isn't "drinking the cool-aide"...it's just supporting your team. I hope you know the SA public don't want you in our supporter base as you've exposed yourself as a cynical, bitter nobody.

B
Brian 337 days ago

IMHO, Pollard, Am and Lood are game changers for the Boks. I have higher degree of confidence facing France/NZ with them on the field, than having Deon Fourie, Ox Nche or Dweba on the bench, so have no qualms with any of said names “bending the knee”, for the greater good lads!

B
Brian 337 days ago

If Pollard, Lood and Am are fit and have zero niggles, I’d want them to be in the squad. Yes, it was dirty of the coaches to pull such a move, but collectively I’d want the Boks to have all the advantages they can get. All for one, one for all!

T
Thomas 337 days ago

I don't see a conspiracy in this. It was a Masterclass in miscommunication and PR failure, but I don't see any ulterior intent behind it. I don't believe Nienaber would torpedo his own team so badly.

W
William 338 days ago

Unless their plan B is for Cheslin to play at 15 and WLR to move to 10 .... then it makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

J
Jimmy 338 days ago

Mr Gallan, you are inebriated by the exuberance of your verbosity.

B
Bill 338 days ago

Conspiracy theorists abound.... The microchip in the Covid vaccine, 5G, stolen elections, contrails, Springbok selections..........

K
Katlego 338 days ago

Did you take in to consideration that squads usually suffer 2 injuries on average per world cup. All these players have also been given good game time since the last world cup. My personal opinion is that you are not a massive springbok fan, i might be wrong.

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Tim 1 hours ago
'It’s a mental thing': Joe Schmidt on the Wallabies' flyhalf issues

Ben Donaldson had not played Super Rugby for the past eight weeks. Surely, he was playing Shute Shield for Randwick in that time to keep up the fitness…?? Eight weeks is a long break to be thrust in against a hungry skillful side like Georgia who deserve to be in the “7 Nations”. (Italy, Wales & Scotland v Georgia, can’t wait to see those ones). In the second test against Wales, Donaldson was put on for nine minutes. That was a mistake from the coaching team, who already knew he was starting the following week against Georgia. They should have put him on for 20-25 minutes, with Nick Whyte at halfback, and their combination from the Force would have flowed. Donaldsons first 20 minutes against Georgia was a shocker. However, well done to Joe Schmidt for keeping him out there because Donaldsons game improved as the rust came off, he was hammered a few times and handled it and he came into his groove. He made mistakes which they will all learn from. Ben Donaldson is a naturally talented rugby player who the Wallabies have to stick with at no.10. “Over the black Dot-aldson” is a good nick name for him with his awesome goal kicking style. It looks as though, off the boot, it’s going to hit the post. Then it just curves in beautifully every time, once he is in the groove. Donaldsons play this season for the Force, with Kurtley and co., was amazing to watch. Kurtley making one of the best comebacks in history. Donaldson has to be played consistently with Flash Gordon, Big LEN, McReight, Tupou, Kellaway. Oh, that’s right, there is Bell, Kerevi, Petaia (This list does go on a bit). Donaldson will be slotting these weapons into gaps, and into the clear, before we know it… One more thing which I will just assume is happening, just include JOC in the Wallabies squad. He is a rugby genius. His skills, wisdom and experience would be infectious around the Wallabies relatively inexperienced backline. JOC has mastered the art of all the positions long ago. JOC is so skilled and match fit atm taking THE REDS, at no.10, within a point of beating Wales. He can come off the bench and slot into the backline for the Wallabies at 10, 12, 13 or 15 at any stage of a test match. Ummm yeah, not bad… I am assuming that BIG JOE, Laurie “Gandalf” Fischer, Mike “The scrum Doctor” Cron and the team obviously already know all this. I am just a passionate rugby union supporter, and I am very happy that these guys are in charge of the coaching duties, what a coaching team the Wallabies have been blessed with. (Good luck with selecting the match day 23 when Will Skelton, who was playing amazing rugby for La Rochelle, and the boys return from Europe/Japan, Samu Kerevi…???) Now just imagine having Bernie Larkham, Toutai Kefu, Nathan Grey and John “Nobody” Eales as your coaching apprentices… GO AUSTRALIAN RUGBY… Doing a great job Phil Waugh, Joe Roff, Dan Herbert and the team. An amazing three years ahead. GO THE WALLABIES… GO THE WALLAROOS… GO THE 7’s in Paris…

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