Disciples of the delusional

The Lions are heroes again after beating a Bok B-side that was a disgrace to the jersey, writes Keo in his Business Day newspaper column.

If the celebration of the supposed heroes who lost a meaningful series-deciding Test in Pretoria two Saturdays ago defied belief, it does not compare with the response to the British and Irish Lions defeat of a Springbok side in which 10 regulars were rested.

Some, among the British and Irish, called Saturday’s dead rubber a great occasion. Others called it one of the greatest victories in Lions history and pondered what may have been if the Lions had not arrived in Johannesburg with the series already lost.

It is why the British, and to a lesser degree Irish, win nothing of relevance. They are the kings of the afterthought, the masters of the dead rubber and they will forever remain disciples of the delusional.

In all of the emotional outpouring of an after the fact Test win, there was no criticism of Lions coach Ian McGeechan’s poor selections for the first two lost Tests. McGeechan picked the wrong lock combination in the first Test, selected the wrong front row combination and never got it right all tour with his back three combinations.

Not that it mattered because the Lions get on the plane heroes for winning one out of three Tests. It is the British and Irish way to applaud finishing second in a two-team race.

South Africa, in Johannesburg on Saturday, were a disgrace to the jersey ­ a disgrace that started with a white armband protest against Bakkies Botha’s two-week suspension and ended after 80 minutes of clueless and ill-disciplined rugby.

The build-up to the Test was a shambles with Bok coach Peter de Villiers spending all week mixing his metaphors, defending eye-gouging and telling the media that he changed his mind four or five times before settling on a Springbok B team because he wanted to give every player in his squad the feeling they had made a contribution to the Lions series.

Test rugby, to De Villiers, is obviously a charity in which you hand out jerseys instead of asking players to earn the right to wear them. After all De Villiers was gifted the job in the name of transformation.

De Villiers has been riding on the coattail of the 2007 World Cup winning squad and Saturday’s team selection and approach to the game was the first example of a Peter de Villiers selected and coached team. The result was a 19-point defeat in Johannesburg; and the Boks were lucky it wasn’t close to 30.

The De Villiers philosophy of not coaching off a clipboard and just playing the situation as the players see it does not even work on the club fields of his hometown in Paarl, let alone in a Test match environment. De Villiers, on Saturday, showed us that it is not only at press conferences where he plays the part of the court jester.

De Villiers’s insecurity has meant that he has always wanted to dismantle White’s World Cup winners and on Saturday he used his chance to introduce his breed of player and ineffective style of play.

It was a disaster because of the naivety of the approach and the arrogance of believing, that at this level, a team can play laterally without getting go forward and expect to be successful. It serves no purpose to take the ball to the wingers when they get it 20m behind the gain line while back-pedaling.

The scrum and lineout are the primary phases and in the scrums De Villiers got it wrong by pairing loosehead prop Beast Mtwarira with hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, with the latter not having the grunt or grind of Bismarck du Plessis. It was no coincidence that when Du Plessis entered the arena English tighthead prop Phil Vickery left two scrums later and Mtwarira again looked more the Beast of Durban than the Bunny of the first half in Johannesburg.

Rugby selection is about getting the combinations right, settling on a structure that works for those players and then allowing them freedom of expression within that framework. Once that has been agreed the player’s mindset must kick in.

On Saturday there was no structure, few match-winning combinations and a player mindset that confused the wearing of a white armband with the waving of a white flag to signal the end of Jake White’s World Cup winning team.

Black armbands for South African rugby lovers would have been more appropriate of an occasion that should be mourned and not celebrated.