The Springboks must be honest about their performance against Ireland at Ellis Park, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
The Boks' last 20-minute comeback – second only to Lazarus – has to be applauded. Equally, context to the contest has to be acknowledged.
Altitude, as much as the Lions contingent in the Springboks and a rebirth of biblical proportions, saved the humiliation of a second successive Boks defeat in South Africa against Ireland.
Context must come in the form of the quality of the opposition. This was not a rejuvenated England or the All Blacks. This was an Irish team missing half their preferred starting lineup.
The Bok ambulance job of June is not yet complete. A series-deciding Test must still be negotiated in Port Elizabeth and to excuse the opening 40 of the second Test or to dismiss it on the basis of the final 20 minutes when the Boks prospered against tired legs and even more tired minds, is inviting more trouble to what is already a troubled Boks early-season campaign.
The analysis of the Boks can only be done when the series has been played, but the questions, so far, outweigh any answers.
Adriaan Strauss’s longevity as the captain will be questioned, especially when the form of Lions hooker Malcolm Marx and the option of veteran Bismarck du Plessis are weighted as considerations.
The inability to fire in the first 40 asks serious questions of players who were challenged to redress the defeat of the first Test in Cape Town. Equally of a coach who publicly laid down the gauntlet to his players.
Ireland, in Johannesburg, weren’t good enough to translate a 19-3 half-time advantage into victory and the Springboks' individual talent was good enough to take advantage of a visiting team beaten as much by altitude as by the attitude of the Springboks in those frantic final 15 minutes.
The Boks surely are better than what we have seen in the first two Tests, even if not as good as we’d always want them to be.
The pack struggled too often in the scrums, there wasn’t calm and cohesion to the attack and defensively there was an absence of grunt, mongrel and the usual elements associated with any Test at Ellis Park, a venue where everyone – New Zealand included – once feared playing.
The forwards were sporadic in their collective threat and the backs are a result of turning the national set-up into a learning school for coaches when it should be a finishing school.
The Boks escaped an embarrassment against a side that should never have pushed them that close. Don’t gloss over the vulnerability of this Irish side.
Analysis is that much easier in a winning effort, so take comfort from the fact the Boks won but be blunt and brutal as to what was missing in the victory.
The Boks, tactically, have looked poor in the two Tests and as many questions must be asked of the coaching staff as there must be of the players who started in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The Boks will improve if there is honesty about the performance and the honesty has to be that the standard set in the first two Tests of Allister Coetzee’s tenure has not been good enough to inspire confidence that the Boks in 2016 will challenge New Zealand in the Rugby Championship and continue their dominance over England at Twickenham later this year.
Frankly, Coetzee and his Boks have inspired little comfort this month.
England’s investment in Eddie Jones is evidence of the influence of a world-class coach. Coetzee and his inexperienced support staff have been found wanting against a depleted Ireland, whose second-string players just weren’t good enough to turn the screws at Ellis Park.
The Boks looked impotent in a first 40 when emotion and the backlash of Newlands should have made for an irresistible cocktail that bludgeoned Ireland.
This is Ireland we are talking about – a weakened Ireland. This is an Irish team who struggled in the Six Nations.
Hopefully Port Elizabeth will bring a Bok performance with a hint of cohesion, where plays and combinations reveal some sort of game plan.
The series decider has to deliver a Bok performance characterised by set-piece control and dominance from the outset. There has to be evidence of a game plan. To ask for anything less is to accept mediocrity.
Come on, this is a home series and no Bok team should be looking this ordinary against northern hemisphere opposition.
Strauss, as captain, has to lead from the charge in Port Elizabeth. It’s a huge Test for him. At least it should be.
A team is defined through its leadership and there simply hasn’t been anything to suggest this is the leadership that will be the making of an inspiring Boks’ four-year cycle to the 2019 World Cup.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images