Nothing soft about Soweto slaughter

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day newspaper, writes for anyone to claim a few soft moments was the difference for the Boks is to claim insanity.

The only thing that can save the Springboks now, said a mate of mine, is another 20 years of sporting isolation. Having just watched the match tape for a second time, for professional and not sadistic reasons, my mate may just have a point.

Damn, the Boks took a beating.

This was the most brutal of reality checks and to deny the obvious is to ask for more pain.

The Boks were second best – and by some distance. They have been for some time and there should be no comfort in being the best of those competing for numbers two to five.

The referee did not favour the All Blacks. The referee did not cheat the Boks. The All Blacks did not have an extra man on the field. Statistically all the advantage was South Africa’s, before the start and in the first quarter of the match.

The Boks were at home, playing in front of 85 000 at altitude, and against an opponent who had already claimed the tournament championship and had reached Johannesburg from New Zealand via Buenos Aires.

The assumption – at least mine – was the greater hunger for success had to be that of the Boks. Similarly, when judging the enthusiasm of the two teams.

I wrote before the match that one team wanted to win and the other had to win. I got it wrong in writing the team who had to were the South Africans.

Our boys wanted to win, but were never good enough. Richie McCaw’s men had to win to make another telling statement to those who refuse to acknowledge their achievements.

Clearly, there isn’t such a thing as a meaningless Test for these All Blacks. They set their own standards and they were done no favours by the referee who awarded the All Blacks their first penalty in the 57th minute, by which time they had already scored four tries.

I’ve seen some very talented All Black teams stumble in South Africa because of a high risk and all out attack approach. I’ve also seem some very good New Zealand teams run out of puff as altitude proved as decisive as any home team attitude.

Not in Soweto.

The All Blacks were intelligent in their approach, calculated in when to play for field position and when to trust their defensive patterns and they were ruthless on attack.

These guys played with no risk in the first 20 minutes, preferring to kick the ball back to the Boks and ask them to think. They hardly played any rugby, with the Boks making two tackles and forcing the New Zealanders to make 28.

Yet on 30 minutes the Boks trailed 12-10 and all theory about home ground advantage was secondary to the reality of an on-field beating.

I’ve seen All Black teams batter the Boks in the professional era. I’ve never seen one that appeared so easy and so emphatic as in the last 40 minutes in Soweto.

To claim a few soft moments was the difference is to claim insanity.

I don’t put much store in what coaches and players say after the game. It really is only when they see a recording of the 80 minutes that you get some sense out of them, even though Bok coach Heyneke Meyer will know that no scoreboard could do justice to the one-sided beating in Soweto.

For those of who you may challenge my view go and watch the tape again. Those last 50 minutes especially were torture and the final 10 minutes looked like the winding down of a training session.

There can be no masking the situation and there is also no gain from playing the blame game. Whether it was Johan Goosen, Elton Jantjies or Patrick Lambie at flyhalf would not have made a difference. It would not have made a difference whether the early kicks went over or not. The All Blacks would have come back just those few minutes earlier.

Each week I hear a coach, a captain and a player say a few moments cost them. If they acknowledge the problem is more complex then those few moments will hopefully decrease considerably in the next 12 months.

Questions rightfully have been asked of player performance this season. Meyer has said the season already has answered which players selected were good enough and which were not, but he needs to ask the same questions of his support staff.

How good are they? How good are the defensive structures because players don’t seem to trust each other or trust the system? What is going on with the kickers?

Hard questions have to be asked from within.

There is no need to panic because of the defeat, but I’d start to panic as a supporter if there is denial about the nature of the defeat.