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An Earl Rose among the thorns?

Last night I watched, with a sizeable amount of sadness and frustration, Earl Rose get the bird from the Newlands crowd. How on earth could anyone think this is the kind of behaviour you can display toward your own countryman while he wears a national jersey? Just who exactly does this serve?

Snor picked the player because he believes in his ability. As did all the coaches who have picked and backed him all his career from high school upwards. And let’s be frank here, it’s tough enough for a black player to progress up the ranks in the usual “out of the way” positions like wing and fullback, let alone the most important of them all. But Earl made it, and let’s be frank, he’s had some great games along the way. Or is every coach he has ever had been friends with his father as is the popular explanation for Snor’s faith in him.

What is it about Earl that makes him deserving of such abuse from his own countrymen? And why must he be subjected to this while he is on the field busting his gut playing for his country. Where is the sense in that?

We have a touring team — the British and Irish Lions — who are here for a two-month tour of SA for rugby, history, camaraderie and to make and relive memories, basically what rugby tours are all about. We very well should be going out of our way to make them feel comfortable and play the cheery gracious hosts. It is how things are done in the rugby world, but when we get onto the field that ceases, you back your boys to the hilt as the Lions fans do theirs and no quarter is given or asked. Why then do you make life uncomfortable for one of your own?

If you don’t feel Earl deserves to be wearing a national jumper that is a matter to discuss between games. Not on the day SA needs your support on the field. For the record I happen to believe Earl is a fine footballer who has the misfortune of being unconventional in a rugby society that cherishes dependable, reliability over everything else. Which is fine and well when it’s netted you two World Cup trophies (thank God for that sh*t easy [little blip against Fiji excepted] route to our last one in ’07), but when was the last time SA contributed an innovation to the game of rugby? When was the last time we produced a player who weaved magic on the field?

Brent Russell? We hounded him out of the SA game years too early by perennially sticking him on the bench and out wide where we figured he’d do the least damage defensively. Because let’s face it — that is our bugbear. We are so obsessed with not being found out that we never do anything to find others out. Adi Jacobs? People still doubt him for not being able to stop a Sherman tank dead with a flare of the bicep. Ruan Pienaar? Did you hear the naysayers before last week?

Can you imagine if the Dan Carters, Freddy Michalaks and Matt Giteaus of this world had been born in SA, would they have ever made it beyond club rugby? Remember the furore when Snor moved Ruan to pivot last year? If you are not a 100kg hulk or cannot boot a ball 80m you may as well forget about being a stand-off in SA. Is that a winning culture?

South African rugby’s best sustained run of success came when our half-back combo was made of two players who made the unconventional look easy. That’s why when Lem was our fly-half the Bokke averaged over three tries a Test and went on a 17-game unbeaten streak. With Ruan and Fourie we have just that kind of axis that can use our near obligatory forward dominance to rip teams apart with ball in hand and leave the opposition in no doubt they were outplayed by a better team.

Earl is just the sort of player for that kind of game, and as we saw in a weather-ravaged Newlands yesterday, he can hold a team together in the wet as well. Yes he had two kicks charged down early on — a clearly unthinkable occurrence in some people’s eyes, and he had one or two passes go astray, but do the nation’s favourites not make clangers? Where were the baying mobs when Frans Steyn gifted the All Blacks a try last year?

Mistakes happen and players like Earl will make mistakes, it is part of their greatness. Do you think Carter has always been flawless? That Giteau has never run up an isolated blind alley in his time? Why is this easier to accept for a Frans Steyn than an Earl Rose? I daresay if Earl had been the one who failed to find touch on that fateful afternoon in Durban we’d never hear the end of it. Hell, mobs would probably picket outside Bok training camps protesting his inclusion.

So what is it about Earl that is so hard to forgive? That he will prove you wrong? Is that why he gets booed when he is playing FOR his country? Make sure he cannot perform so as to fulfil your own prophecy? That makes no sense in my head. To those to whom it does — please help me understand?