Reports that Springbok players were going to boycott their end of year tour should flanker Luke Watson be selected were “completely untrue”, SA Rugby said on Monday.
“All the speculation is utterly groundless,” said acting managing director of SA Rugby Andy Marinos in a statement. Marinos said he had met Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and team captain John Smit on Friday and also had a meeting with Sarpa (the SA Rugby Players’ Association.
“But these were scheduled operational meetings and at no time were any verbal or written threats made regarding selection,” he said. This clarification comes after Afrikaans Sunday paper Sondag reported over the weekend that players in Durban, Gauteng and Cape Town had confirmed to the newspaper that they were ready to withdraw from the team if Watson was picked for the tour to England, Wales and Scotland.
The newspaper said this message had been conveyed to SA Rugby and De Villiers last week after Watson was again in the limelight for controversial comments about the Springbok jersey and Afrikaans-speaking people.
Senior players reportedly said they were so upset by the comments, and Watson’s influence on the team, that they asked the captain, Smit, to deliver the message to De Villiers in their meeting on Friday. A separate meeting, between the Sarpa’s Piet Heymans and Marinos, was also said to contain a similar message on Watson. The newspaper report quotes a senior Springbok who says Watson “does not belong in the side”.
“The other players don’t want to play with him. They feel they can’t be open in a team environment with each other and are worried that what they say may get back to the politicians.” Watson may not be chosen in any event, the newspaper added, as his form was not up to standard.
The newspaper also reported that De Villiers told a Pretoria breakfast on Thursday that Watson had broken the Springbok code of conduct.
“You don’t allow the actions of an individual to influence an entire team,” De Villiers was reported to have said.