The Springboks are in a rut at the moment but history favours them to beat the Wallabies at Loftus, writes MARK KEOHANE.
If we don’t have hope, then we have nothing.
All week the question was: ‘Can the Boks win?’
My response: ‘They simply have to.’
The day I bet against the Boks, playing Australia at Loftus Versfeld, is the day we’ve become the Scotland of rugby – always brave but also battered.
The Springboks have been a mess all season. They were awful against a severely depleted Irish team. They lost at Newlands against Ireland, who for 50 minutes played with 14 men.
They were a Faf de Klerk intercept away from losing in Port Elizabeth and losing the series. As it stood, Ireland had created history by winning for the first time in South Africa.
Then came the Pumas and it needed a try a minute from the end to beat them. Then it all came unstuck away from home and more unwanted history – beaten in Salta, beaten in Brisbane and hammered in Christchurch.
Never before had a Springbok team lost three successive away matches in the Rugby Championship. This has been a history-making debut season for Bok coach Allister Coetzee, but it’s not the famed kind of history.
Australia, in six visits to Loftus, have never won. The Boks, at Loftus, have a 75 percent win rate. It is the ground at which they most prosper, even more so than Ellis Park.
History says the Boks to win comfortably.
If not at Loftus then nowhere again this season, including the away visit to Italy.
Victory will give belief and provide relief to players, coaches and supporters. It may even allow for that once-in-five home wins against the All Blacks a week later.
It is after the fact in the Rugby Championship, with the Boks currently fourth in a four-team race. It’s been ugly for the Boks, in every respect.
The ugliest image for me was the acceptance of a 28-point defeat against the All Blacks. The Boks were applauded for playing good rugby in the first half. The talk was too much about one well-structured try and not enough about six conceded. The All Blacks also had two disallowed that went to the TMO.
Coetzee and his assistants have been defiant this week although the projection was more one of denial, which allowed for the bravado and the arrogance.
Coetzee said he wanted for nothing in his squad. The best were playing. He said he wanted for nothing with his coaching team. His forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot dismissed supporter and media criticism as irrelevant, declaring the team were their own critics.
He, like Coetzee, said they didn’t read newspapers.
The coaches were comfortable that they had the midfield and the loose forwards to beat the best. Coetzee said he dealt in statistics and not emotion and then defended the selection of Juan de Jongh in the midfield on the basis of the energy he showed in the position. He discarded the claims of Lions centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who, he added, had a magnificent Super Rugby season.
It didn’t make sense but then very little has made sense this season.
The Boks are a bunch of individuals who have yet to convince as a unified team, in terms of performance and results.
Coetzee, in what traditionally is the honeymoon year of any national coach, has already built a laager and a defence mechanism that many simply want him to fail.
No rugby loyal South African, supporter, player, stakeholder or storyteller of the Boks’ fortunes, ever wants the Boks to fail.
A winning Bok team sells more newspapers than a battered one. Good news sells; not the reminder of mediocrity.
South Africans want the Boks to win, more so because it’s the bloody Aussies.
Coetzee has failed so far because of poor selections and inadequate defensive structures, game management and whatever other technical aspect required to consistently win at Test level.
Australia, when world champions and blessed with some of the greatest players of their generation, lost to Springbok teams in South Africa, whose pedigree was very secondary.
But at home, at altitude, it didn’t matter who wore the green and gold, they were not going to lose to Australia.
Nothing makes sense about the Boks this year. Very little makes sense about the selections for Saturday, especially the axing of Johan Goosen from the match 23.
And nothing makes sense about my defiance in calling it for the Boks by 15.
History says the Boks don’t lose to Australia at Loftus and until they do, I’m backing history and not Coetzee’s Boks best efforts to rewrite history for all the wrong reasons.
Photo: Pat Hamilton/Getty Images