Boks quietly slip back into SA

The Springboks arrived back in South Africa on Monday morning after a weekend that promised much but delivered little—except, perhaps, for a large dose of reality for the men in green and gold.

The depleted squad slipped into the country under the radar before 7am on Monday and dispersed quickly to other destinations in the country before most people had wiped the sleep out of their eyes.

Had the Boks beaten France in Paris on Saturday, a far more triumphant return would surely have been on the cards after a long and arduous season.

The abject display in the 26-20 loss to Les Blues poured cold water on what had been seen by many as fairly successful year. France, though, showed that if the Boks are to return to Europe and win the World Cup in two years’ time, there is much work that lies ahead.

Assistant coach Allister Coetzee was honest in his assessment of the tour.

“The loss to France could actually be a blessing in disguise.
Had we won, we would have felt comfortable. Now we know we have plenty of work ahead to achieve our goal [of winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup].”

It should also be remembered that the World Cup will be held in the middle of the season and not at the end as this tour was, which augurs well for the fatigued southern-hemisphere giants.

“That will certainly mean the weather will be better, but if we want to be the best, we know we have to adapt. We have time to work out the problems,” he said.

Coetzee was adamant that mistakes made were not down to the personnel involved, but rather a question of experience.

“We know we have the right players and we know where we went wrong. There were a number of positives from the tour. We might play Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the quarterfinals [in 2007] and we showed we can win there.”

However, following the fairy-tale first season under coach Jake White and captain John Smit—which saw the team win the Tri-Nations and International Rugby Board team, coach and player of the year awards—2005 saw them surrender all those accolades.

The Boks did, however, come close to defeating the mighty All Blacks in Dunedin and winning back-to-back Tri-Nations titles. The victory over Australia in Perth was a breakthrough, but the Wallabies’ subsequent woeful form indicates that perhaps that victory should be taken with a pinch of salt.

That South Africa is the only team to have beaten New Zealand this year suggests that with a little tinkering they can be considered real contenders for the world crown in two years.

The loss to France—host country of the next world showpiece—at the weekend, though, highlighted several deficiencies in the Bok squad, not least the lack of mature back-up at scrumhalf and flyhalf.

The result also means that the Boks have lost once to each of Australia, New Zealand and France this season—all major contenders for the World Cup in 2007.

England, the current holders of the William Webb Ellis trophy, did not play South Africa this year, arguably sparing the Boks the humiliation of yet another crushing defeat at Twickenham. South Africa have not won in London since Nick Mallett’s Boks in 1997.

Added to this is the fact that White and Smit have had to remain in Paris for the latter’s hearing for rough play in the weekend’s match.

It is not the first time the skipper has been caught up in controversy at the end of a tour this year. In August, Smit was accused, and then unconditionally acquitted, of racial abuse, but now he could face a suspension for damaging the throat of French captain Jerome Thion.

Smit’s hearing is expected to take place in Paris on Tuesday.—Sapa

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