The Springboks will experience teething problems in the infancy of Rassie Erasmus’ tenure and the public needs to remain patient, writes former Bok scrumhalf NEIL DE KOCK.
South Africa’s loss to Argentina in Mendoza was a hammer blow in terms of staking a claim for the Rugby Championship title. Particularly considering the way in which the four-team tournament is structured, you want to defeat Argentina both home and away to put yourself in the best position.
We must take nothing away from the Pumas, who played out of their skin. They dominated the collisions, breakdowns and set phases, but it was a sub-par performance from the Springboks.
It is always difficult to gauge players on one poor performance. However, from an attacking point of view, the fact of the matter is that the backline didn’t gel in Mendoza. It was a fair assessment on the day that scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and the forwards ran the show more than flyhalf Handré Pollard. It was a game directed from No 9, as opposed to No 10. In the back division, we need Pollard to step up and take more control. He has got to be the voice and give the team direction. Whoever is at No 12 also has to take greater responsibility and provide more direction for the team going forward.
The disappointing 13-point defeat has thrown a spanner in the works, but I believe that setbacks test the resilience of a team and provide an opportunity for a comeback. The Springboks are by no means dead and buried in the Championship and will next come up against Australia, who have lost heavily against the All Blacks over the last fortnight.
The Boks must use the week off from playing to regroup and come up with a plan that they can execute against Australia to get the desired result. Erasmus is smart enough to know what is required to beat a side like Australia, who are really struggling for form, but equally, they came up against an All Blacks team that has been outstanding.
In terms of the direction the Springboks need to take, it’s the old chicken and egg debate. Do you opt for consistency and believe in the coaches and players you have and afford them the opportunity to develop, or do you chop and change in order to find the necessary quick-fix?
Too many times in the past, we have erred on the side of the quick-fix. To go and make wholesale changes on the back of one bad performance would be harsh. I’m of the belief that the longer a team stays together, the better they can become.
If the powers that be believe in the coach who is at the helm, a positive cycle will arise for Springbok rugby. However, there are so many moving parts to create a winning team. You need players who believe in what you are trying to achieve and buy into the team culture. You have to pull all the elements together and unfortunately, as Springbok supporters are experiencing, creating a consistent team takes time.
International rugby is a ruthless world because people demand results week-in and week-out, and rightly so. Our expectation of the Springboks is that they should be on top of the world. It’s no different for other premier international teams, who are under the same pressure to produce. As a team, it’s how you manage those pressures and come out with the desired results, at the end of the day, that actually counts.
I’m not going to tell you that the Springboks are close to achieving what the All Blacks have achieved because that would be naive, with the former seventh on the world rankings. The Boks have a long way to go to reach the level the All Blacks have performed at consistently over the last couple of decades. However, there are green shoots of progress and we need to be patient with the process.
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