DURBAN – It has to be extremely frustrating for the Sharks’ hierarchy when key players are lost to the UK, as has been the case this week with the Sale Sharks proudly unveiling new recruits Robert du Preez and Akker van der Merwe.
Those are vital segments of the Sharks’ spine ripped out just as the team that has been building nicely for the last three years has started hitting its straps. Du Preez and Van der Merwe were major contributors to the Sharks winning the Currie Cup last year and they have both played significant roles in the Sharks topping the Super Rugby standings after two rounds.
Van der Merwe is 27 and Du Preez just 25… they are players that the Sharks could have built an era around but now they will be the property of Sale come the end of Super Rugby in June.
While there is obviously the carrot of earning a powerful currency in the UK, the decisions by the pair will also have been influenced by their frustrations at being out of favour with the Springboks.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has made it clear that neither are in his plans in this World Cup year.
To be fair to Erasmus, there are only so many players he can pick for the Bok squad, so there are always going to be disappointed players. And that exclusivity of being a Springbok is what makes those who are selected so proud.
Du Preez made his debut in the undervalued Test against Wales last year in Washington DC. Late in the game he had a kick charged down leading to Wales scoring the winning try and he has not been picked since.
To be fair to Erasmus, Handre Pollard is South Africa’s best flyhalf and, again to be objective, Elton Jantjies is clearly the next cab off the flyhalf rank.
But when it comes to Van der Merwe, the waters are not so clear. They are in fact decidedly muddy even if it is unanimous that Malcolm Marx is SA’s best hooker.
But it is inconceivable that Van der Merwe cannot crack the nod for even an enlarged Bok squad, and Erasmus’ spurning of the Angry Warthog has most definitely played a major role in his decision to pack his bags.
Van der Merwe will be wondering what he did to annoy Erasmus After also making his debut in Washington last year, Van der Merwe was impressive for the Boks in his second-half displays in the wins over England in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein last year.
That was after a spectacular Super Rugby season in which he was man of the match on no less than five occasions. He played 15 games and was judged the best player on the park in a third of them.
He also scored four tries in Super Rugby and then in the Currie Cup scored three more; won two more Man of the Match awards in the Pool games before being Man of the Match in the Currie Cup final.
And yet he didn’t crack the nod for last November’s Bok tour!
The current Springbok pecking order at hooker is Marx, Bongi Mbonambi and Schalk Brits.
In my opinion, it is a disgrace that Van der Merwe is not at least the back-up hooker to Marx. He is a much-loved character for how he industriously beavers away in every game he plays.
He could have grown into a genuine Springbok legend had he been treated better by the Bok director of rugby.