Boks more a frustration than a concern

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day Newspaper, writes the Boks gained more the battle in Nelspruit.

Rather a scrap than a sensational effort against a courageous but limited Scotland.

The Springbok coaching staff gained more because of the struggle against Scotland and there certainly won’t be complacency against Samoa.

South African rugby supporters tend to be reactionary and very different in their reactions every weekend.

When New Zealand struggled to beat France in the first Test in Auckland and South Africa were brilliant in patches against Italy many on social networks expressed confidence for the Boks’ prospects in the Rugby Championship.

The opposite was true on Saturday night after the Boks battled and the All Blacks bludgeoned a very good French side.

I’ve learned over 25 years of writing about the Boks that the South Africans can be as unpredictable as the French when it comes to motivation and performance. So much about the Boks depends on the quality of the opposition.

The All Blacks, historically, have been ruthless against inferior opposition. They are a team that puts sides away by 80 or a 100 points. The Boks seldom do.

Think back to the 1995 World Cup and how the Boks battled past Romania and Canada but then fronted for the respective challenge of Australia, France and New Zealand.

Similarly the 1999 World Cup. They looked hopeless against Uruguay and then brilliant against a very good England a week later.

In 2003 the Boks simply were not good enough against the best teams but even in 2007 they were vulnerable against Tonga and Fiji but absolutely ruthless against England and Argentina.

In 2011 they did everything but beat Australia in the World Cup quarter-final when in the build-up they looked dodgy against lesser opposition.

It is unfortunately the South African way. There has to be fear for losing to get the best out of the South African player psyche.

And when Scotland led 17-6 after 50 minutes there seemed – for the first time in the match – a fear that they could lose. Their response, aided by a shocking home town TMO decision to sin bin a Scotland player for an off the ball push, was emphatic and in the last 15 minutes the dominant team was South Africa.

The hosts scored 24 unanswered points and did it easy in the end.

Scotland did to the Boks what the Boks often do to New Zealand in South Africa, which is to disrupt the flow of quick recycle ball, to niggle at the breakdown and to be in their face for a good hour.

Scotland fronted and had they been a team of greater rugby ability they would probably have won. Their limitations were exposed in the final quarter and South Africa’s strengths came to the fore.

There is nothing to take from the game other than to know the Boks are still a work in progress, but that they have the potential to be a very good finished product.

The Rugby Championship, to be played in two months time, represents a different challenge but it also comes packaged with familiarity between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia’s best players.

These guys play each other weekly for six months of the year. There is nothing they don’t know about each other and there is very little to separate the best of New Zealand with the best of Australia or South Africa.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, because of default as much as design, is building greater depth to the Boks than has possibly ever been the case in the professional era.

Injuries and unavailability of Japanese based players like Fourie du Preez, Andries Bekker and Jacque Fourie have forced Meyer to try alternatives and injuries to those players have meant international exposure to the next tier of player.

Meyer is building a very good foundation for a World Cup squad of 30 and doing so without the express purpose of building for a World Cup that only takes place in 2015.

The Bok coach picks a match 23 he believes to be the best to win each Saturday, so he has never asked for the public’s patience and used the 2015 World Cup preparation as a buffer to criticism.

I agree with the Bok coach’s sentiment about the maturity of Jean de Villiers’s leadership. De Villiers is very calm and his composure has been infectious.

The Boks did not panic when they didn’t have the ball for 20 minutes against Italy in Durban and at no stage did they look like a side in panic against Scotland.

They looked frustrated, clearly rattled and a bit disorientated but they never had that frantic or blank stare that often comes with a disbelieving situation.

That the Boks did not put away Scotland is more frustrating than concerning, but it is not out of character with the history of Bok rugby.

And it will have no significance to when they play Australia and New Zealand in August. Different month, different opposition, different competition and always a very different attitude.