With just five Tests to rectify massive deficiencies and flaws, retaining the World Cup looks an improbable mission for the Springboks, writes RYAN VREDE.
There are no mid-year Tests in which to find synergy. Consider also that senior Springboks are unlikely to play in the two away Tri-Nations Tests. Even the optimists must admit the situation is dire.
Some would argue the Springboks were in a similar position at this point in 2006. Jake White’s Boks were woeful throughout that year, and White was granted a stay of execution thanks in large part to the victory over England in the final Test of the tour.
However, no comparisons can be drawn between the two campaigns because this team’s troubles run so deep that nothing short of a miracle is required for the Springboks to even contemplate becoming reacquainted with William Webb Ellis. Neither must a victory over England serve as a guarantee of a ticket to New Zealand for Peter de Villiers and his assistants.
The game has undergone a fundamental change on attack and defence with the introduction of the new breakdown law interpretations, one the Springboks’ coaches have not been able to master.
On attack they’ve persisted with a kick-chase approach that was instantly outdated by the ruck interpretations, while defensively they’ve routinely failed to stem the flow of teams that have understood how to exploit the greater attacking options the changes have offered. Tellingly, the Boks have never looked like improving in this regard.
The on-field mediocrity is undoubtedly undermined by the coaching staff’s fractured relationship, stemming from De Villiers’ outed quest to replace his assistants after the Tri-Nations.
Furthermore, it is also known that they have greatly differing philosophies on how the game should be played, with De Villiers and Muir campaigners for the cavalier, while Gold is in favour of a more pragmatic approach. Keo.co.za also reported recently that the squad is polarised in terms of their preferred attacking strategy. What we’ve seen on Saturday afternoons for the past six months is an ugly and utterly ineffective hybrid of those two philosophies.
De Villiers ultimately must be held accountable for this situation. He once famously told SA Rugby magazine that he is the CEO of South African rugby. Yet none of the leadership qualities associated with that self-appointed position have been evident.
There are secondary concerns: poor and myopic selections, De Villiers’ unwavering loyalty to senior players who are off form, and his idiotic offerings to the media. Time is not an ally if all these issues are to be addressed and resolved. I’m not filled with confidence this will happen, particularly since the first and most crucial step – acknowledgement – has not even been contemplated.
The players have been on this ride before, three years ago, but they surely have, or will soon, realise that this time is different. Now the bloke controlling the speed dial is a nutter who has cut all the safety harnesses. They cling on for dear life in the hope that it comes to a halt in Auckland on 23 October. But this cart is poised to derail spectacularly well before then.