Boks’ rugby was a failure

The Springboks should not be applauded for a brave defeat against the All Blacks, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

The Springboks have been hailed for their bravery and character because of a refusal to stay down each time the rugby acumen, accuracy and skill of New Zealand’s attack wobbled the Bok defence but never emphatically broke it down.

Emotionally, South Africans expressed their pride in those warriors who wore green and gold. So many bemoaned a lost opportunity and took comfort that two, and not 22, points separated the two teams at the final whistle.

South Africa has become the Wales of rugby. Coming second is applauded. Coming second is accepted as a moral victory if the players bleed, cry and continue to get up after every knock-down.

Analysis is never a consideration and the South African rugby media were consistent in rating the Boks' defeat seven from 10.

‘So close’ screamed headlines. But it was not close at all, when defining a champion and a pretender who refuses to accept that coming second in a contest of two makes them the loser.

The effort rated eight, the bravery 10 and the rugby four or five.

Defence wins World Cup play-off matches. Ask the All Blacks: they missed three tackles out of 86 in 81 minutes. The Boks missed 20 out of 151.

The All Blacks, since the opening match of the 2011 World Cup, have lost three Tests in 53. They’ve dismantled every team on occasion but they’ve also won ugly, with late drop goals, sensational tryline defence when five points would be the beating of them, and they’ve done it in seemingly impossible situations.

New Zealand’s defence in the second half against the Boks was the equal of their attack against France in the 62-13 quarter-final romp.

The All Blacks, adapting their approach to one field position and not ball in hand, played skilled and intelligent rugby.

When the big moments came veterans Richie McCaw and Dan Carter delivered the big plays. World Cup play-offs are decided on big moments. The All Blacks, as it has been every time they have played the Boks in Heyneke Meyer’s tenure have finished strongly and beaten the Boks through skill and tries, without ever compromising defence.

The New Zealanders play with passion; the Boks play with a pained desperation that is interpreted as passion. It’s manic and never sustainable for 80 minutes.

The pattern each time has been the same. The Boks find an emotional trigger that defies logic for an hour and then when the well runs dry, they offer nothing by way of skill or attack.

The All Blacks, tactically, win the rights to the battlefield and in this specific four-year World Cup cycle, they won the war at Twickenham, which finally means they have won more World Cup knockout play-off matches than the Boks, who in three knockout play-offs against the All Blacks over a period of 20 years, have never scored a try.

The All Blacks in the last two wins have scored five. They have a defence and an attack. We think we have a defence but it’s a street fighter mentality that being a champ means bleeding and taking a beating, but never staying down.

The All Blacks continue to show that being the best means being able to defend and attack.

The All Blacks won the gainline collision 53-25, dominated field position 67 to 33 and beat 20 defenders on attack, as opposed to the paltry three of the Boks.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer blamed a failure to adapt to the wet weather in the second half, despite a half-time lead of 12-7 and a one-man advantage for the first eight minutes of the second half.

He didn’t mention that the players he selected to add impact were a liability, that the pre-determined Bok substitutions added nothing to the match situation and that the Boks in the previous seven Tests against the All Blacks had learned nothing from the six defeats.

Meyer’s selections, game-plan approach and winning return against the world’s best in four years has produced continued failure.

There should be no reward for coming second in a contest of two and a street fighter’s courage should never be confused for a rugby team's failure.

The Boks, as men, fronted as men but offered little by way of rugby.

The rugby effort was more four or five from 10 whereas the courage was 10 from 10. The courage must be applauded but not at the expense of a failed World Cup campaign that will always be remembered for the one in which Japan beat the Boks more than one in which the All Blacks beat the Boks for the seventh time in the last eight meetings and for the 39th time in the last 54 Tests since 1992.

The rugby of the Boks was a failure and instead of the reward of patriotic applause for bravery, there should be a robust and rational Saru review in which there is a consequence to the coach and players who failed the rugby exam seven times out of eight against the All Blacks.

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images