There is no Springbok rugby positive to take from getting zero and conceding 57. It’s also not a result simply to be forgotten.
A Kiwi mate a few years ago told me that the All Blacks and Springboks had long stopped being a rivalry and it was more a case of serious assault to the body and mind of every South African supporter.
This mate said the difference between the All Blacks and Springboks supporters was that we in South Africa remember the one we win and they (the Kiwi supporters) remember the one they lost. He has a point because they’ve only lost one from the last 11 against the Springboks and South Africa has only won one of the last five in South Africa against the All Blacks.
Saturday’s 57-0 is one that both sets of supporters will remember.
The Kiwis will remember it for the day that they perhaps buried the amateur-era rivalry that saw the Springboks superior in match-ups. The Springboks, before South Africa’s return from international rugby isolation in 1992, had won 21 and lost 16 to the All Blacks. Subsequently they’ve won 14 from 52 and they’re conceded 50-plus points to the All Blacks on three occasions, two of them in the last two Tests.
It’s been brutal and while last season’s 57-15 defeat in Durban was painful it was half expected given the state of the Springboks. The South Africans had lost to Ireland at home, lost to Australia and Argentina away and been thumped in New Zealand.
This time around there was no fear of a blowout, even though it was generally accepted the All Blacks would win.
The Boks were in good shape and seemingly in a good space. They’d won five and drawn one of their six Tests. They looked a well organized team. There was confidence and there was reason to feel good about the progress of the Springboks. They had improved from a world ranking all-time low of seventh at the end of 2016 to the much more appropriate and acceptable third of a week ago.
France had been dismissed easily, Argentina was brushed aside and the 23-all draw against the Wallabies in Australia was the best Springbok result in Australasia in the last four years.
There was reason for optimism and there was good cause to have an expectation of this team. I had the Springboks to be competitive against the All Blacks in New Zealand. I thought they were good enough to come within 10 points. The Wallabies, despite the hammering in Sydney, were two minutes away from winning in Dunedin and Argentina were competitive with the All Blacks for an hour in New Zealand.
The Springboks last year were losing to Italy and Argentina. This year they were beating France and Argentina. They had improved but the improvement can now be measured as apples v apples and pears v pears.
The Springboks have not advanced at all against the All Blacks and inexperience and youthfulness cannot be used as an excuse. Only two Springboks from Albany started in the 57-15 defeat in Durban. The converse is only five All Blacks were in the starting XV.
The All Blacks are every bit as youthful as the Springboks, especially among their backs. There has been a huge player transition in the All Blacks since the World Cup final victory in 2015. On average, only five of the All Blacks World Cup-winning starting XV, are regular starters in 2017.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has been taken apart on social media but Brendan Venter, Franco Smith and Johann van Graan have been the coaching axis in 2017 and up until Albany have been credited with the transformation of the Springboks.
To single out Coetzee only in defeat is just wrong.
The coaches, as a collective, got it wrong against the All Blacks and the players in which they invested were not good enough.
This wasn’t a bad day at the office; this was an inferior team taking a beating from an exceptional side.
The Springboks back three, individually and collectively, are not good enough if the goal is to be the best in the world. The halfbacks aren’t good enough, the back row combination that started wasn’t good enough and the tight five as a unit isn’t quite as good as they were made to look against France and Argentina. The midfield has been hit and miss.
Victories against teams ranked eighth and 10th in the world were good for morale, but those victories duped us because it was all we had as a measurement.
Albany is a reality check from which there is no escape and from which there should be no desire to want a quick escape. To forget this result is to forget that the Springboks can ever again be a threat to the All Blacks.