MARK KEOHANE writes South Africa’s lack of leadership in the forwards was exposed in Mendoza, as was the naivety of a pack that is unfortunately a shadow of the beasts who have worn the jersey in the past five years.
Individuals will get blamed and given the South African way it will be provincial specific, but this is not a performance of individual blame but of collective calamity in that the newbies to Test rugby were not equipped to deal with an Argentinean side that scrapped, clawed and fought for a historic first draw against the Springboks.
The lack of a specialist opensider was obvious in that there was no counter to the Pumas love for a group gathering around the ball on the floor. Heyneke Meyer said any player can fail once but there isn’t place for a second failure at Test level. His words will be put to the test because certain players are not up to Test standard and when the occasion called for heroes to emerge all we got were imposters in a green jersey.
Perspective is necessary to appreciate the vulnerability of the Bok pack, in terms of experience, impact and influence. Bismarck du Plessis is colossal and Adriaan Strauss will need grander efforts to offer an impersonation. Andries Bekker, forever the next Victor Matfield, has neither the confidence nor the brilliance to match the Bok legend, Jacques Potgieter is no Schalk Burger, Willem Alberts looked out of sorts in that selected loose-trio and for the days of a back five of Bakkies Botha, Matfield, Burger, Smith and Danie Rossouw.
There was no calmness in a frenetic opening 30 in which the Pumas were going to deliver the passion of a nation’s rugby history, given the occasion. The limitations of the Pumas meant they could only lead by 10 points at half-time despite the majority of the ball, the rub of the green and the home ground advantage.
The Boks did not deserve anything from this match, but they got plenty when it comes to a reality check. I will never understand the nonsense about not selecting foreign based players because they are not playing Super Rugby or in a development Currie Cup competition.
This match cried out for the experience of a Botha, a Joe van Niekerk and a few more who on a weekly basis star in Europe.
The pack were intimidated, they were out of their depth and they were bullied. It was embarrassing.
Still the Boks should have sneaked it when Morne Steyn missed a penalty with a few minutes to go. It was England in Port Elizabeth all over again and Steyn obviously will be the target of abuse. His job is to kick goals and when he doesn’t he stands to be judged.
Young players will be wiser and tougher for the experience but I don’t buy an argument that suggests you go to Argentina for a learning experience. Too many kids were grouped with too many provincial players in the guise of a Bok Test pack – and the results were a humiliation.
Meyer picked the side and he takes the pains, as he does the plaudits when it goes right.
The backs can only ever threaten when the Bok forwards rule and the lack of potency made for an ugly 80 minute viewing experience. Too lateral, too isolated and with no momentum. These backs were not going to find any glory in Mendoza.
Frans Steyn, individually, was strong but he was the exception to a performance that is a reminder of the quality of Springboks that went to the World Cup compared to the mediocrity of what was produced in Argentina.
The hosts have beaten Australia previously, beaten France and in recent years been a minute away from beating the All Blacks. The shorter and narrower pitch did not help, but it did expose a team that failed to adapt to the intensity and mongrel of the hosts.
It was a humbling experience for those of us who watched, but it will forever be a humiliating one for those who played. Not so the boys from Argentina.