Bok rugby will gain from pain

MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day Newspaper column, writes Bok rugby will rise again – stronger than it ever was in the last two years.

There is never perspective in mourning. There is seldom reflection and there is most definitely no introspection. Grief is painful and this morning a country is grieving what was, on the surface, a tremendous Springbok performance.

Here’s a message to those not so misty eyed: The Springboks are no longer world champions. They are not even Tri-Nations champions. They are out of the World Cup in the last eight. Champions of 2007; nothing this morning.

I haven’t met a South African rugby supporter who didn’t tell New Zealanders that the Boks made it to Paris on October 20 2007 and the All Blacks didn’t. Those same supporters dismissed any referee bias in New Zealand’s 2007 World Cup defeat against France in Cardiff.

The All Blacks lost by two points. The French scored from a forward pass but we were quick to tell every Kiwi that if their team had been good enough they would have converted all the possession into points and they would have overcome poor officiating and a shocking referee bias. They would have won.

The same is applicable to the Boks. If they were good enough they would have beaten Australia. The question I asked, emotionally charged at the final whistle, was how did the Boks lose? I tweeted that it was a rugby injustice.

I’ve now had time to watch the game again and my anger at referee Bryce Lawrence and the resilient Australian defence, in particular the colossal David Pocock, has been redirected at the Springbok coaching staff and the players.

Which team wins the penalty count, has a 19-7 lineout advantage and makes only 50 tackles in relation to the opposition’s 150 and still can’t score a try? A brave team?

World Cups, as every South African supporter reminded New Zealand in 2007, are about winning by a point or losing by two points.

When the Boks beat Wales by a point at this World Cup there was no reflection; just outrageous celebration that it was part of the master plan.

There never was a master plan because senior players, in comfort zones, dictated the team environment for so long.

Hindsight wasn’t needed for this one. The cruel nature of the defeat, given every dominance the Boks had, must force an admission from within the game’s establishment that the fabric of South African rugby can’t be determined by winning a World Cup by one point or losing it by two.

Our game is greater than World Cups and our game demands resolute decision- making and leadership.

Now that the World Cup is gone for four years, there has to be a focus on getting it right every year in the next four years and going to 2015 believing we can win and not hoping for the miracle performance.

The Boks were an old side at this World Cup and those giants of the last World Cup, criticised for being a year too old, did not tower above the rest in the defining moments of this quarterfinal defeat.

The Australians should have been destroyed in the last 20 minutes, but SA were not good enough to ever land the knockout blow.

It is easy to blame the referee (and I thought he was poor but without bias), but to get it right next time we have to accept where we got it wrong this time.

It is a rugby tragedy that Bismarck du Plessis played off the bench in most of the tournament matches. He is at the prime of his game. Similarly, the attacking instincts of Francois Hougaard and Gio Aplon and the explosiveness of Willem Alberts.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers invested exclusively in too many veterans no longer good enough. He failed them with this loyalty and they failed him with an inability to deliver. It sounds crass but there are no second prizes at a World Cup. There are no heroics in play-off defeats.

It was written before the World Cup that no team had ever defended the title because too many players past their international sell-by-date were kept in business.

This Bok campaign is not unique. The brilliant Wallabies of 1991 invested in the walking wounded in 1995. Senior players picked their games and determined when they would train. Too many players were managed during tournament. Does it sound familiar?

What is as familiar is the way that Australian team went home — to a last-minute Rob Andrew drop goal.

One kick retired so many great Australian players and James O’Connor’s late penalty did the same to some of the finest Bok players the game has ever produced. There were exceptions. Schalk Burger was immense, as he has been all tournament, and Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers were world class. But the exceptions were too few and the result too predictable.

The Boks will get it right again and there are good enough South African players and coaches to ensure future glory every year.

But before South African rugby can ever get that winning consistency right there has to be an acknowledgement, from those within the game, of what they got wrong in the past two years.

The defeat is painful and the mourning hurts like hell but the recovery can — and will — be invigorating.