Let’s be honest in SA rugby
25 Jul 2011
MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the Springboks’ poor showing in Sydney came as no surprise.
Often, very little makes sense about South African rugby, or indeed the South African rugby supporter.
There never seems to be any doubt among South African rugby supporters that the Springboks can beat the All Blacks in Auckland at this year’s World Cup. But there is concern the Boks may not be able to negotiate Samoa at the same tournament … a view based on Samoa’s win against a Wallabies team missing seven first-choice players.
Often nothing makes sense and the past week was no exception, with the Boks in Sydney insulted at being called a B team, despite 21 first-choice players having being assembled in Rustenburg for a two-week training camp.
And then there was a belief among so many South African rugby supporters that the bag of mixed sorts gifted a Bok jersey in Sydney would deliver more than collective mediocrity.
Even worse was the surprise among South African fans when Australia embarrassed these South African rugby players dressed as Boks.
The Springboks were always going to take a beating because in the Tri Nations not one of the three teams has enough depth to play a B team against the other’s A team — and win away from home.
It was also how SA lost that reaffirmed the view that Peter de Villiers as national coach offers nothing.
De Villiers, whether the Boks win or lose the World Cup, cannot go sooner. Worse than him having nothing technical to offer is that in four years he has learned nothing.
Senior players defend De Villiers because they say he is a great manager of players. They do this because he allows the ‘old boys’ to do whatever they want and to run the show.
De Villiers, as a rugby coach, is as embarrassing as the effort of the players in Sydney. Had it not been for the charitable substitutions of Australian coach Robbie Deans on the hour, the score-line would have been a truer reflection of an early Aussie attacking master class and a limp Bok response.
De Villiers has not had the capacity to evolve as an international coach in four years and the team that started in Sydney was never going to play more than one match as a unit.
Somehow too many remain surprised. How ignorant! How depressing!
The Boks, with the best playing at their best, can win anything. That is why there is hope for the World Cup, but there also has to be honesty about last Saturday and the coming weekend’s defeat.
Bok captain John Smit said the only B describing his team was that they were Boks. I’d add “bull” to that as well.
Honesty served the 2007 World Cup campaign. A repeat dose now would not be out of place.
De Villiers, among the coaches, stands alone in the blame because he has never empowered his two assistants, Dick Muir and Gary Gold, and for the past two years has tried to fire them. They have no input in team selections and team strategy. They are simply there for a pay cheque.
De Villiers has relied on 20 very gifted players to mask his incompetence these past four years, and mostly the players have delivered through instinct and natural ability.
Most of those players were not in Sydney, which also explains the result. The team that played against Australia had no respect for the basics of the game, had no desire to make a tackle, had no clue on attack and looked lost from the opening whistle — which would be an accurate description of De Villiers’s tenure as coach.
South African rugby fans who deal in reality and not illusions should focus more on what is going on in Rustenburg, where a real coach (Rassie Erasmus) is working with some real Bok players … ones who aren’t injured and are very capable of winning a one-off Test against anyone.
Those up north (in SA ) can also no longer defend Morne Steyn’s right to the No 10 jersey at the World Cup. Butch James offers more in the short term and Pat Lambie is the long-term solution.
Life isn’t going to be as comfortable for Bok rugby when Victor Matfield and his imposing team-mates call time on their international careers.
The 2007 World Cup winners are among the best players ever produced. With most of them gone in 2012, Bok rugby is again going to need a coach the equal of those departing players.
Forget the Sydney result. It means nothing in the context of the World Cup.
There is no need for panic, but there will always be a need in our rugby for honesty.