MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, said the Springboks did what was expected of them at Newlands.
Expected win. Great win. Not a ‘good enough’ win. Just a win?
Why don’t we deal in reality?
Does it scare us? Does it make us think? Does it make us responsible? Does it confuse the escapism of sport because it forces us to be satisfied? And if we are satisfied, does it mean we can’t feel a different sense of satisfaction a week later?
The Springboks don’t lose against Argentina in South Africa. Traditionally they win by 20 points. There was one occasion when they won by a point. There was another when they won by 54. On balance it is 20.
They also don’t lose in Argentina. There was one occasion they nearly did but that was because Springbok coach Harry Viljoen in 2000 did the unthinkable. He challenged a mindset. He told his players they were not allowed to kick the ball and they produced rugby for 40 minutes never played by a Springbok team.
It was a masterstroke, but the point had been made at half-time. And instead of applying logic so the point could be made the next time, he refused to believe in the reality of the situation. The Boks were not conditioned enough to play a match of rugby for 80 minutes without kicking the ball. Mentally no one was conditioned to accept it was possible.
Argentina, who wouldn’t come out of their change room after half-time because of exhaustion in being forced to tackle for 40 minutes, defied the IRB rules and stayed there for 20 minutes instead of 10.
They knew the game could not be called off. They knew they couldn’t play without legs. We forget that. We call it a lucky win. The day the Boks kicked the ball for the first time on 73 minutes and Braam van Straaten kicked a 78th-minute penalty to win the game 37-33. The day it all nearly went so horribly wrong. The day Harry showed he belonged in business and not rugby, apparently. The day Braam’s kick restored sanity, stereotype and allowed our minds to rest.
We won. We should have lost. So South Africans said.
One British newspaper columnist wrote that it was the day the Boks defied the accepted norms about kicking and not keeping the ball; that it was about possession and not field position; and that it was about what we wanted to make it and not what others wanted us to believe it to be.
But he said it would never be remembered for how it all could have changed forever; it would be used as an example of why it should never change. Apparently we nearly lost when the story should have been about a victory of the evolution of the game and the mind of the player.
The Boks, 12 years later, beat Argentina with the tested formula of giving us what we have always had. Now it isn’t good enough. The social networks are a reflection of the comfort in what has always been done and not what can be done. A day before the Test, some feared the Boks could lose. Some said they just had to win. Some said it should be 20 points. And when they won 27-6 some said they failed because they did not score a bonus point.
Argentina said they were happy. They had been competitive. South African coaches were not happy but at kick-off they would have taken a 20-point win. Why not now?
The All Blacks, having beaten the Wallabies 12 out of the past 15 times, won for a 13th time in 16. They apparently had not won; it was the Wallabies that had lost.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said his team were not where they wanted to be but they would be there next week. They will be in Auckland, where they haven’t won since Moses parted the Red Sea, but there will be condemnation in Australia when they lose on Saturday and outrage in New Zealand if the All Blacks don’t score the four-try bonus point.
What can we learn from Sydney and Cape Town? Nothing. What should we have expected to learn? Nothing?
The big guy simply strangled the little guy. Why dissect it? Unlike 2000, nothing was produced that shocked, surprised or made us think. And we remember 2000 for the day the Boks nearly lost, when it was the day rugby came so close to winning forever.
Mendoza and Auckland respectively will provide no new insight because it is still a big guy strangling the little guy and applying a formula that allows for the minds to be comforted and not challenged.
This weekend it will be 10 to the Boks in Mendoza and possibly 20 to the All Blacks in Auckland. It is expected, but it will not be good enough.
Rugby, as we want to know it, isn’t ready for the unexpected although too many are never satisfied with the obvious.