Reality bites

Keo, in his Business Day column,writes that more denial will only end Jake White’s tenure as Bok coach.

Hyped to the heavens about the strength of their scrum, it took the Springboks 47 minutes to win an attacking scrum in the Australian 22. And then they turned over possession straight away.

This non-event in the context of the Australian 49-0 humiliation was only the fourth time in the match South Africa had won a scrum feed. In the first 28 minutes of the test, the mighty Bok pack had enjoyed just one scrum put in, which came in the 14th minute and was on half-way.

As the rain strengthened and the score increased, so too did the number of scrums. In 80 minutes the two packs engaged 26 times, with two of those scrums reset four times respectively. It should have been the match from heaven for the allegedly brutal Boks. Instead it was the humiliation from hell.

Modern scrum statistics average 19 in test matches, as opposed to 37 lineouts in 80 minutes. In Brisbane the regularity of the lineout was matched by the scrum. The only other statistic that coincided was the Boks missed tackles and ball percentage, which in the first half an hour totaled 22 in both facets.

The reason these statistics have such importance is that it further embarrasses any post-match propaganda from the Bok camp, who insisted that referee Paul Honiss was their undoing in Brisbane.

The referee does not catch or drop the ball. The referee does not scrum and the referee certainly is not the one who misses 22 tackles in the first half an hour of the match. The referee is also not the one responsible for a flyhalf who makes three errors in 11 actions in the first 46 minutes. When your first receiver has been given the ball just 11 times at this juncture and you’re already 30 points down, then the referee is removed from influencing the outcome.

What the Bok camp should have acknowledged post this embarrassment was the following: It was a criminal offence to play Australia without a specialist open-side flank. It was an act of stupidity to publicly boast about the strength of the Bok scrum when technically it is flawed and the French had only a few weeks ago exposed this vulnerability. It was a risk playing a new back three, midfield and loose-trio for the first time in a test. It was equally questionable starting a test with seven Bulls players, given their abysmal historical away record in the Super 14.

Further, the coach should have been big enough to concede he had got his selections wrong and that the off-field infighting between the coach and the national administration did affect the squad. The captain should have fronted on the ill-discipline, the attempt at an eye gouge from Ricky Januarie, the stomping of Juan Smith, the sending off of Victor Matfield, professional and cynical fouls and the mindless penalties conceded in every facet of play.

If there is to be redemption for Brisbane, then it has to come through honesty from the Bok coaches when they assess the ruins. And the most culpable among the coaching staff is Jake White.

The head coach can no longer run from the reality he has created through a blinkered selection policy, self indulgence and prejudice towards players who don’t fit a conservative stereotype.

The Boks are desperate for leaders among the players and the management. White has surrounded himself with a weak management, who don’t question his philosophy. The coach has picked players who don’t challenge the game plan or don’t have the conviction of character to change things on the field.

White can run and blame the world for his ills or he can offer temporary insanity as his justification for messing things up in the last year. Those few Bok coaches who in the last decade have made it to year two and three have succumbed to the irrational and the outrageous. It is no crime. The crime is a failure to see it.

White surely saw it in Paris, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and in Brisbane. To survive he has to act. He can blame the world, but the only way to fix the situation is to blame himself, to accept where he has stumbled and then seek out the necessary players and coaches who can take his tenure forward.

More denial will only end his tenure as Bok coach.