​Old-style Boks not up to the game

That losing feeling: The Boks have become used to the taste of defeat this season. (Stu Forster, Getty Images)

That losing feeling: The Boks have become used to the taste of defeat this season. (Stu Forster, Getty Images)

It is often said that you reap what you sow. This saying couldn’t find a more appropriate home than with the Springboks and their parent body, the South African Rugby Union (Saru).

It has been a disastrous and poor 2016 by anyone’s measure.

Four wins from 12 Tests have left Boks coach Allister Coetzee with a 30% win record, matching Ian Macintosh’s record — one that saw “Mac” being replaced by Kitch Christie 22 years ago.

After the Boks recovered from possibly the greatest-ever Rugby World Cup shock last year (losing to rugby minnows Japan) to reach the semifinals, many believed the team would bounce back with their once-feared demeanour. What it proved to be was nothing more than blind, optimistic patriotism.
Things have now gone from bad to tortuous.

The 52-year-old Coetzee’s appointment was widely expected when he was named the national rugby team coach, on a four-year contract, to take the Springboks past the 2019 World Cup in Japan, becoming the second black coach of the Springboks since unification.

Coetzee has been facing mounting pressure to hand in his resignation at the Saru head offices after the Boks suffered their first loss to Ireland at home, an away loss to Argentina, the biggest-ever loss to the All Blacks and defeat to England for the first time in 13 attempts spanning a decade.

The nadir came when the Boks lost to the 13th-ranked Italy, in Florence, for the first time in their history. It appears now that anyone with kit and some boots can take on the Boks with the confidence of getting a good result.

Records have kept tumbling, and not the good kind. The Welsh loss marked the eighth adverse result in a rotten year. Many called for Coetzee’s head.

The coach and the Bok captain, Adriaan Strauss, who should have vacated his position five months ago, came back from Europe with their tails between their legs and apologies flowing aplenty. 

Strauss’s problems are over but they have only just begun for Coetzee, who said he wants to be part of the solution. It appears that he might just get a second chance because Saru isn’t expected to pull the trigger on the coach’s career just yet.

Coetzee’s sacking would mean that the Bok coach would have to be paid out an amount of R20-million. For a union that’s struggling financially, it is a move they can ill afford.

As much as the shambles on the field has left supporters frustrated, it’s hard to avoid the fact that this mess has been caused by officials. We have a Bok management that is the most inexperienced I have seen in the past 24 years. Our administrators don’t have the objective of making Springbok rugby the best in the world. They may say so with words but their actions betray the truth. 

So what really brought us to this new low? Is it the inexperienced coaching staff that has brought the Boks down? Is it the senior players who are now riding on reputations and collecting as many Test caps as they can, but are no longer of the same calibre as they used to be? Or is the team just being poorly managed from the top down? Was there ever a succession plan?

The traditional bruising, physical and direct Springbok game plan was always going to be challenged under a new coach, as many believed that world rugby had moved forwards and that the Boks were lagging behind.

Coetzee tried to implement the Lions’ style into the national team, with no immediate results, so he opted to return to the lager and grind out a win, by hook or by crook.  All Black coach Steve Hansen, commenting on the Boks’ game plan before the Test in Auckland, said: “Maybe that’s been part of their problem.  So far they are not sure how to play because most of their side is from the Lions.

“The Lions don’t play like that. So when you come and you mould your team, sometimes it takes a little while to get them where they need to be because you are changing your style.”

Rugby has always been the one sports federation that has enjoyed special treatment from the sports ministry, as well as the South African Sports Confederation and Olympics Committee, which were instrumental in retaining the Springbok emblem for rugby when the other sporting codes had to change to the Protea.

The Boks even enjoy the benefits of keeping the old guard of Springbok numbers, the first ever being Ben Duff, who made his debut on July 30 1891 against Britain, to the likes of Adolf Malan, who on August 26 1989, playing against a World Invitation side, was the last player to represent the Springbok team before unification in 1992. Was it not ideal, considering our divided past, that André Joubert should be the Springbok number one when we played our first Test since readmission against the All Blacks?

Surely many sacrifices were made during unity talks that led to the formation of the South African Rugby Federation Union 24 years ago in Kimberley. Or did our old guard, who were part of the negotiations, forget to amalgamate our rugby cultures into one?

As things stand, everything that happens with the Boks when they suffer losses is blamed on transformation. There has been a lot of talk about issues of transformation but few seemingly want to embrace it. This has been the recurring trend.

Transformation cannot continue to be the whipping boy for failure. This continued assault is tantamount to dismissing a rich black history of rugby spanning more than 100 years.

Honestly, I am sick of hearing that “coloured and black people can’t play or coach rugby” or that “quotas are crippling the system”.

Take Derick Hougaard’s tweet, for example. The former Blue Bulls flyhalf said he was sick of transformation and that it was killing our rugby. Firstly, the 2016 Bok team that is responsible for the worst record in a calendar year was not transformed. Coetzee picked three black players to start against England last month — a pathetic tally 24 years after unification.

What makes matters worse is Saru’s claim that it has spent R500-million rands on transformation in the in the past quarter of a century. The simple question must be: Where did all that money go? Targets have regressed and deserving black players continue to be left out of teams by coaches.

The last decent coach we had was Peter de Villiers, who was belittled to a point where he wanted nothing to do with South African national rugby, despite winning a Tri-Nations trophy and a British and Irish Lions Tour trophy.

England got the biggest hiding ever on home soil when South Africa fielded a team more transformed than the current one, and beat the All Blacks how many times? The mandate is and has always been to give black players the opportunity to develop themselves and gain experience at provincial and Super Rugby level so as to make the Springbok coach’s job much easier in selecting those players who have it in them to play Tests for the Boks.

When Coetzee first took charge, he had seven players of colour against the visiting Irish. But one adverse result backed the coach into a corner and he did the predictable thing — picking more white players, thinking that would solve his team’s inability to clinch games. They may have won that series in the Port Elizabeth decider but the writing was on the wall. But “Toetie” ignored the signs.

From there black players slid out of the team to the point where a mere three players started against England in Twickenham on November 12 2016.

Surely, for Toetie to have confidence in players like Skhumbuzo Notshe, Gio Aplon, Sergeal Peterson, Jambo Ulengo and Bongi Mbonambi would have been the ideal, considering that he had been given a task of getting the Boks to reach the strategic transformation plan targets of 50% when the team heads to Japan in 2019.

The team that took to the field to play the Barbarians was by far more in keeping with the multicultural team that the country longs for. The Springboks we saw in the Barbarians game were exciting. They scored five tries and drew the match against a strong team. Was it perhaps not an eye-opener for the beleaguered coach?

The year 2017 is a big one for two-time world champions South Africa after those humiliating eight defeats. The team is in freefall and in danger of being drawn into the pool of death for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Their current ranking presents the distinct possibility that they could end up in a group with the All Blacks and Argentina.

Saru should bear the blame for this season’s poor showing and should make the necessary changes. An opportunity awaits the executive council on December 9 to do that without fear or prejudice.

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