The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of … sport.
Jake White is heading off to the Rugby World Cup with his "dream team" – a squad he believes will be better prepared than any he has been associated with since his appointment as national coach four years ago.
The fact that the squad is more than just a little shy of being "politically representative" appears to been glossed over on this occasion, which means that White and his supporters will have no real excuses if the "Class of 2007" does not deliver.
And deliver they must. Given the latitude afforded to White in the final stages of preparing for the World Cup this year, anything less than a repeat of the sensational, nation-building victory in 1995 is not going to be acceptable.
With national pride in the Springbok having been sacrificed on the alter of World Cup glory during the recent Tri-Nations series, it’s unlikely that rugby purists will be totally appeased even if South Africa are crowned world champions in France.
There was a time in the grand traditions of rugby football when winning an international test series was regarded as the pinnacle of achievement in the sport.
Played over three to five test matches, a proper test series proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the superiority of the winning team. Over the course of the series both teams would strive to field their very best combinations and players in an effort to win every game on the way to winning the "rubber".
Often played in conditions that would vary from a hard-running surface at altitude in one match, to the extreme of a "mud bath" at sea level in another, the element of pure "luck" played a virtually insignificant role in the final outcome of the series.
Simply put, a test series in the old tradition helped ensure that the best team won.
The Rugby World Cup is nothing more than a roll of the dice. Even the preliminary rounds, which in theory should sort out the giants from the minnows with the outcome virtually a foregone conclusion, can be distorted by the "rub of the green".
The pool games, quarter finals, semi-finals and the final itself are even more prone to being decided on a single incident – a bad refereeing decision, underfoot conditions that suit one team more than another for only that game and so on.
How often in the history the world cup has it been decided by the critics after the final whistle that the "best team" at the tournament did not emerge as "world champions"?
In striving to minimise the role that "luck" will play in France, White chose to undermine the value and pride of the Springbok jersey by leaving behind his best players for the away leg of the Tri-nations. In years to come the annuls of rugby will record two losses – to Australia and New Zealand without any explanation of why the South African team was made up of "also-rans".
While victory in France would be the crowning glory for White’s personal career as national coach and would be deliriously welcomed by all South Africans, for many who so passionately love the game and its traditions that go far beyond the pure commercialism of the World Cup, it would be nothing more than a consolation prize.
– David Bryant