Broader analysis of Boks required

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says Saru must judge Peter de Villiers on the past 18 months and not the last 80 minutes.

England turned to classical music as further evidence of their evolution as a team, when on this particular Saturday they really needed old fashioned and uncomplicated heavy metal to effectively bang heads with the Springboks.

England’s heavies, with some discomfort, looked to the future in playing style and attitude and in contrast South Africa’s brutes dug into their dogged past with familiarity and certainty to find their public apology for the shame of Murrayfield a week earlier.

The Boks were in familiar territory and England were not and the consequence was humiliation for the hosts. At the end both England captain and coach were bemoaning costly errors, but that was too simplistic a view of the Boks’ brutal response to being beaten by Scotland.

England, supreme against Australia a fortnight ago, were never given an open door to the kind of momentum needed to play with width as opposed to territory.

The Boks were too physical at the set pieces and simply destructive in every collision, and even though England somehow led 6-3 after 20 minutes Twickenham was a war zone with English players down all over the place and winger Chris Ashton knocked cold after his collision with Victor Matfield.

England lost their two most influential players in Tom Croft and Toby Flood to injury early on, but this was not the reason they lost the match.

The Boks were too powerful and too bloody-minded to lose for a second successive week after a torturous year. Some of us overestimated England’s confidence and underestimated South Africa’s resolve. South Africa were as accurate and organised at Twickenham as they were inaccurate and disorganised at Murrayfield.

Memories tend to be short among supporters and the disgrace against Scotland will be forgotten because of the win against an England side many, myself included, reasoned had broken into the top five because of the victory against Australia.

Bok captain Matfield – imposing against England – announced afterwards the Boks had revealed their World Cup blueprint at Twickenham, which was to play direct rugby, and coach Peter de Villiers declared it a shame not to win the Grand Slam but countered that by saying winning the Grand Slam would have countered for nothing if the Boks don’t win the World Cup in 2011.

And it is with this gem from the Bok coach that we have to ask the South African Rugby Union hierarchy if it is not then time to call a press conference and confirm to the rugby supporter that Grand Slam triumphs and Tri Nations’ championships mean nothing, and the only thing that now matters to South African rugby is winning the World Cup?

If this is the case then at least there is no confusion as to what constitutes success with the Springboks and what
defines the seasons between World Cups. It certainly will change the way one reports on the Springboks and it should also change the commercial approach to matches involving the Springboks.

There can’t be justification to condemning the coach and his players if there is no relevance to results in between World Cups, and similarly there can’t be justification to charging a fee to watch matches in which the result is meaningless.

Injured Springbok Bryan Habana tweeted after the Boks 21-11 win against England that he hoped critics of the Boks enjoyed the taste of humble pie after writing off the Boks in the build-up to their season finale.

My response to Bryan would be to ask him if the Bok players and coaches enjoyed the taste of winning four matches from 10 in the Tri-Nations and Grand Slam tour this year and if scoring 19 tries and conceding 27 was sweet on the tooth?

Given his status as a senior Springbok with influence and insight I’d also like to ask him if the Boks now measure themselves against winning at Twickenham against England or at Eden Park against the All Blacks, who in their 10 Tri-Nations and Grand Slam Tests, won 10 times and scored 40 tries and conceded 12?

Have Bok standards slipped that dramatically in one year that the players, coaches and supporters take comfort from a one-off win against a team that has not beaten New Zealand since 2003 or South Africa since 2006?

Do South African rugby people not see the relevance in a broader analysis of what the Boks and All Blacks did away from home against the same opposition this past month?

In the last month the All Blacks averaged four tries a Test and collective points differential of 88. The Boks, against the same opposition, averaged less than two tries a Test and a collective points differential of 12.

Memories, as I said, are short in sport, but if every Test does actually have relevance then the memory of 2010 is more significant than the most recent result against England, and those who govern South African rugby have a responsibility to those who support the game to assess De Villiers on his return in the last 18 months and not the last 80 minutes against an opponent who has lost 13 in succession to South Africa and New Zealand.

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