Boks are in denial

The habit of making excuses for Springbok losses needs to stop, writes MARK KEOHANE​.

Here’s a thought for those aligned professionally with Springbok rugby, be it players, coaches, management or those elected officials and paid executives involved with the governance and business of the sport – those of us who invest in South African rugby want the Springboks to win. There is never an upside to the Boks losing.

Newspapers sell better when the Boks win. Good news sells more than depressing defeats. We want to write, talk about and celebrate heroes and don’t get some perverse pleasure out of those talented Springbok rugby players who play to a losing result.

No one would rather lose than win. No player stuffs up on purpose just to annoy the supporters and no coach wilfully continues to select a player without ever thinking it is the right call.

Some regard asking questions of the Springboks as equal to emigrating. Questioning a losing Bok coach’s continued selection flaws is interpreted as a cultural and societal attack, and then it is deemed provincial. The coach’s rugby pedigree, intelligence and ability to be a good selector are always secondary to his cultural and religious standing as a fine, patriotic man.

Losing Springbok coaches are embraced because of a presence or personality that makes him likeable, or they are chastised, mocked, ridiculed and torn to pieces on their articulation or inability to be an inspiration. Ditto players.

Coaches wax lyrical about the patriotism of a player but won’t entertain an enquiry about the player’s basic international flaws as a Test player.

There is no analysis among television’s rugby commentators and pedigreed analysts that isn’t prefaced with the confirmation that the person’s heart says Boks to win, when what is required is an insight into why the Boks don’t win. Giving such a view is regarded as betrayal.

Then there’s the belief that the world’s referees hate South Africa and despise the Springboks, and that each time the Boks play there is a deliberate attempt from referees to make them lose. The Boks lose by 30 points and the referee is often given as the first reason for defeat.

Then there’s a travel schedule that never favours the Boks. Global weather patterns are among their greatest enemies, as are supporters, reporters and the opposition fans.

The Boks lose because of a conspiracy or because of quotas. Transformation is the reason the Boks lose, even if the team is largely white.

Those South African players who are based overseas are regarded as traitors to the domestic game because a French club contract is worth €3-million a year and a South African provincial/national contract is R3-million. The player isn’t lauded for turning his quality into world recognition. The simple response is the player has no love for his country and does not deserve to wear a Bok jersey.

Each year the winning history of the Boks’ pre-isolation is discussed with awe, and there is a call for the good old days when the Bok rugby jersey still had meaning and wasn’t given to players because of the colour of their skin.

The myth is the reality. Perception is fact. The Boks pre-isolation had hugely embarrassing losses. Players who were not good enough were picked for the Springboks because of the colour of their skin and a cultural influence.

The only consistent pre and post the Boks’ international ban was that occasionally a coach got it right with his selections and approach, and the Boks were globally dominant. One Test win away from South Africa was enough to turn one into a bloody big myth and lie.

Springbok rugby is a lie because to talk about the rugby, the player and coaches who determine this rugby is blasphemy to those legends whose fame was a fiction because of how often they lost.

South African rugby would immediately benefit if there were a demand to know why the rugby had failed. Instead, every excuse is offered as to what and who failed rugby. Bok rugby, consistent with a century of history, is again in denial. Ignorance is a friend and freedom fighter to those who perpetuate the myth, and insight is a terrorist.

But the reality is so simple. It’s in the rugby. It’s in the selections and the minds of those national coaches whose insights into the game were complemented by an ability to select players capable of turning a strategy into a winning rugby story.

The Boks win rugby matches because of their rugby pedigree. And they lose because of a lack of it. It’s been like that for more than 100 years and it’s because of the rugby. Nothing more and nothing less.

– This column first appeared in the November edition of SA Rugby magazine

Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images