The current crop of Springboks doesn't have the experience or the skill set to challenge the All Blacks for the 2016 Rugby Championship title, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Allister Coetzee has made it his mission to dodge the question, ‘What about the All Blacks?’ This much was apparent on the day he was appointed as Bok coach.
On 12 April, Coetzee was asked how he planned to close the gap between South Africa and New Zealand. He was asked the same question in the lead-up to the three matches against Ireland, and again in the wake of an unconvincing 2-1 series victory against the same side.
Following the Boks’ 30-23 win against Argentina in Nelspruit, the question was put to Coetzee once more: ‘Where do you see this Bok side in relation to the All Blacks?’
The question is loaded, of course. The All Blacks live in the highest palaces on Mercury, while the Boks languish in more modest abodes on Earth, the third rock from the sun. The gap between the two rugby nations, one ranked No 1 in the world and the other No 3, is gargantuan.
You won’t catch Coetzee admitting as much, though. Since the beginning of his tenure, it’s been Coetzee’s policy to remind reporters that the Boks only face the All Blacks on 17 September. Until then, Coetzee won’t entertain talk of the All Blacks, and what it may take to beat them.
But then, New Zealand have been impossible to ignore. They’ve won the last two World Cups. Their franchises have accounted for 14 out of a possible 21 Super Rugby titles.
Clearly they are doing something right. They have raised the bar in recent times, and a 42-8 victory in Sydney this past Saturday is further evidence of the fact.
Not content with ruling our solar system, Steve Hansen’s All Blacks are blasting off to explore other galaxies. They’ve already perfected the art of defence as well as that of the kick-chase. They understand that great defence is a pre-requisite to a great attack.
Of course, it’s not rocket science.
Meanwhile, here on Earth, South Africa are still trying to understand the movements of the wheel. Coetzee has done himself no favours in selecting a largely inexperienced squad for the Rugby Championship. The appointment of an inexperienced coaching staff hasn’t helped either.
After the first round of competition, it’s clear that many of the Bok players don’t have the skills needed to go toe-to-toe with the All Blacks. Following the inadequate performance against Argentina in Nelspruit, it’s clear that the South African collective has no reason to feel confident ahead the clashes in Christchurch and Durban.
Coetzee has avoided the question, perhaps because he doesn’t have an answer. And to be fair, no team in the world looks to be in a position to challenge the All Blacks for the No 1 ranking.
The Wallabies, the 2015 Rugby Championship winners and 2015 World Cup runners-up, recently lost 42-8 on their home patch. With that in mind, what chance does a Bok side that lost to Argentina, Japan and Ireland in the space of 12 months stand against the mighty All Blacks?
Privately, Coetzee and his lieutenants may harbour ambitions of finishing the 2016 Rugby Championship tournament in second place. In a sense, that could be construed as a sign of progress given the Boks’ poor results over the past year as well as the fact that they finished dead last in the 2015 instalment.
But the time will come when Coetzee has to answer the question, to explain why the Boks are no closer to narrowing the gap between themselves and the All Blacks. In the lead-up to the Tests in Christchurch and Durban, he may be forced to admit that South African rugby is well behind its New Zealand counterparts.
Coetzee will hope for a moment of individual brilliance that swings a tight Test in his favour. Indeed, we saw what transpired in 2008 when Ricky Januarie chipped and regathered to boost the Boks to their first win in New Zealand in a decade.
What’s concerning to note is that this Bok team still lacks synergy less than a month out from meeting the world champions. Even more concerning is the fact that the All Blacks appear to be harder, faster, and more tactically astute now than they were at the 2015 World Cup.
Under Coetzee, the Boks are still finding their way. Meanwhile, the All Blacks are forging ahead.
Perhaps Coetzee won’t need to answer the question. Perhaps the results in Christchurch on 17 September and in Durban on 8 October will speak for themselves.
Photo: Phil Walter/Gallo Images