Boks have lost identity

The Springboks desperately need a leadership that will provide honesty, innovation and clear direction, writes CRAIG LEWIS

At the end of last week, I was hoping for some positive to come out of the Springboks’ Test against England at Twickenham. Ever since the Boks' historic loss to Ireland in their season-opener, a pall of negativity and criticism has closely and understandably followed the side.

For a rugby-mad South African public, there is a very real sense that watching the Springboks is just no longer a source of joy, nor is it a matter of pride.

When last were rugby fans able to walk into the office on a blue Monday and speak glowingly of the Boks’ performance on the weekend? Somehow, I hoped this might be possible this week, but in all reality, Saturday’s dismal effort against England was inevitable.

This is an utterly average Bok team, coached by an ineffective coaching staff, that was always going to be cast in complete contrast to an English side that knows exactly where they stand and where they are going under the astute Eddie Jones.

Ultimately, what successful Test coaches such as Jones, Steve Hansen and Jake White have in common is a very clear vision about how they would want their team to go about their business, and which players would be best suited to execute this.

When Jones took up the England job, he spoke openly and honestly about his vision for English rugby. He shared his plans with the media, and they in turn informed the public. He had no qualms with ditching some players, making bold selections and changing some fundamental aspects of the way England approached the game. The result is a 10-match winning streak.

Meanwhile, since Steve Hansen took over as coach of the All Blacks, they have never lost on home soil, while overall, they’ve only tasted defeat on four occasions. And when White became Bok coach after the 2003 World Cup, he immediately outlined his vision for the Boks to become world champs. Four years later, he delivered on that promise.

By contrast, after 10 Tests with Coetzee in charge of the Boks, is anyone honestly any the wiser as to what discernable game plan he is looking for the team to implement? Has there been any real clarity around certain selections and combinations that have often appear nonsensical? By and large, the unfortunate answer is no.

Of course, some will say that Coetzee is simply being made the scapegoat. And yes, he hasn’t been helped by a backward South African rugby system, injuries, poor succession planning and an exodus of players overseas, but the buck ultimately has to stop with the man at the helm. This is, after all, the poisoned chalice, and he knew the challenges thereof.

What has been equally frustrating is the sense of entitlement and denial that has followed one Bok disappointment after another. Again, it came to the fore in the aftermath of the Springboks’ loss to England: ‘The Bok aura is not fading,’ Coetzee insisted. ‘When the team gives up, then the aura is lost. At the moment, there’s been no lack of effort.’

In all honesty, it’s the sort of assertion that reminded me of some inter-school sports events where the ‘spirit’ or ‘effort’ award was handed out almost out of pity.

Where have the standards gone as a team representative of the Springboks? And if the players cannot be faulted for effort, then surely it is the coaching or game plan that is at fault?

It almost beggars belief that the Boks have fallen so far, so quickly. In a week where we are preparing to face hapless Italy, there is actually a prevailing sentiment that the Boks could fall victim to a ‘giant’ slaying act. How can that be?

And if there aren’t considerable changes made with absolute immediacy, where could we be by the time the 2019 World Cup rolls around?

The reality is that there hasn’t been one iota of progress in 2016, and there has been even less clarity around the vision Coetzee has for the team. Help is needed, because the humiliation is becoming too much to bear.

Photo: Gallo Images

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