Learning from past lashings

JON CARDINELLI says that for the Boks to move forward, they have to look back at the successes and failures of 2006.

The Springboks have three weeks to reflect on what was their worst Australasian tour in four years. Only the three heavy defeats of 2006 (the 49-0 thrashing in Brisbane, the 35-17 hiding in Wellington and the 20-18 disappointment in Sydney) rank higher in the Tri-Nations’ Hall of Shame. Peter de Villiers said he doesn’t know where they went so wrong, a frightening admission one year out from a World Cup.

But talk of replacing De Villiers is pointless. The player-driven system is no secret, but the reality is De Villiers and his assistants are contracted until the end of the 2011 World Cup. If Saru fires them now, they’ll be paying them win bonuses even if the Boks defend their title under a new set of coaches.

Springbok rugby needs to make do with what it’s got, and if De Villiers, Gary Gold and Dick Muir are going to spend these three weeks wisely, they’ll be doing some research. Former Bok assistant coach Allister Coetzee has already compared the two campaigns, and suggested all is not lost. The big question is, will De Villiers take heed of history?

Jake White’s Boks finished last in the 2006 Tri-Nations and went on to lose two out of three on their end-of-year tour. The Sanzar tournament was lost on the away leg, but the Boks saved some face with two late wins. White then took a number of youngsters to Ireland and England, leaving several senior statesmen in South Africa to rest ahead of the 2007 Super 14.

The Boks lost 32-16 in Dublin and blew a half-time lead in the first Test at Twickenham to lose 23-21. They broke the Twickenham curse a week later when Andre Pretorius kicked four drop goals in the 25-14 win, a victory that began South Africa’s dominance over England in the build up to the 2007 World Cup.

While that was important, the value of playing youngsters and leaving the senior guys at home to rest was evident. Frans Steyn emerged as an important figure on the tour, and in 2007, the Sharks and Bulls contested the Super 14 final. South Africa rode the momentum into the World Cup.

De Villiers needs to keep this in mind when planning for the remaining games of the Tri-Nations and the subsequent Grand Slam tour. Playing his best available players and preventing the embarrassment of losing at home is imperative. It will also ensure they prevent a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of either the All Blacks or Australia, which would be a massive psychological blow before a World Cup year.

Following the conclusion of this tournament, De Villiers must decide on who to rest and who to take to the United Kingdom and Europe. Fourie du Preez and Andries Bekker have already been ruled out with injury, and the latter blow may suggest Victor Matfield should tour. But judging by the amount of rugby the 33-year-old has endured this year, and the adverse effect it’s had on his performance, it would be best to give him time to recuperate.

Persisting with the youngsters and alternative combinations should be the objective on the Grand Slam tour. The World Cup is the priority, and if defending their title means risking a few defeats on the Grand Slam tour, then so be it.

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