Despite the best possible start, the Boks simply weren’t good enough to put away Australia, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
The most disappointing aspect of the Springboks’ 23-17 defeat is that they lost to a side low on confidence, devoid of all-round menace and among the weakest run-on combinations to play for the Wallabies in the professional era.
Australia were there to be hammered but the Boks, despite scoring seven points within three minutes and being gifted an intercept, couldn’t make the two-score advantage into something match-defining.
This is a poor Springbok side, not well coached and not particularly well led.
They were again uninspiring in Brisbane and once Australia had reduced the 11-point deficit the Boks never produced a threatening play in the last 40 minutes.
Former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, leader of the Boks this time last year, doesn’t easily criticise those players wearing the jersey he wore more than 100 times.
Yet, even he seemed stumped on Saturday afternoon as he tried to make sense of the second 40-minute effort against Australia.
De Villiers said Test rugby was about 80 minutes and not moments in the first 40. He said he feared for the worst against New Zealand if there wasn’t a dramatic improvement in attitude.
SuperSport analyst and former Bok coach Nick Mallett seemed equally bemused at the lack of Bok presence in the second 40 minutes and finally seemed to give up on the Bok class of 2016 when he described them as a bunch of B-division players who tried hard but lacked the quality and skill to be compared with world leaders New Zealand.
The country’s rugby supporters surely are tired of the same old post-match rhetoric that this Bok team is a work in progress and that there are positives to take from the defeat, and that this is all a process.
The Boks are not a work in progress because that would imply improvement. They have been poorer with each match, especially as the opposition has been stronger.
Australia may be at an all-time professional low but they still represent a greater challenge than a second-string Ireland or inconsistent Argentina.
Never before have the Springboks in a season struggled in every Test match, regardless of the opposition and at this rate the challenge of playing Italy in Italy will be a struggle.
The Boks are not well coached. They are not a well-selected unit and they have not been well led in 2016.
There has been dismissiveness to the Test claims of inspiring foreign-based veterans like Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn, who remain world-class players and among the best in their respective positions.
Yet there is an acceptance and embracing of mediocrity, especially from players within South Africa’s Super Rugby playing fraternity.
Transformation is easily used on social media as an excuse for the poor Bok performances but a perceived forced transformation selection policy has not been true of Coetzee’s selections.
He has picked a primarily white team since his first Test and the core of those fringe black players have all been sent back to their provinces.
Coetzee has picked no more and no less black squad players than his predecessors. The Boks aren’t losing because a coach is being forced to pick inferior players based on colour.
The Boks are losing because the national coach and his assistants are out of their depth internationally and the players picked, white and black, are not good enough as a unit to trouble the best in the game.
Currently they aren’t good enough to trouble most teams.
Australia’s Wallabies are at a low but this Bok squad as a collective ranks among the most fragile fielded in the last decade.
We are talking about the Springboks, two-time world champions, and traditionally the greatest foe to New Zealand’s dominance of the game.
The Boks must be better than a work in progress or comfortable in defeat because the set piece functioned effectively.
The Boks, in search of excellence, surely have to aim for more than losing efforts described as ‘spirited’ and they can’t each week take comfort or be excused sanction with a belief that each defeat is a learning curve for a bunch of inexperienced youngsters.
This is the Springboks we're are talking about … not a third-tier evolving rugby nation.
They need to front as a top-three nation and give this country the performance befitting the history of that jersey.
If not, then the coaching staff needs to do the honourable thing and get out before there is a national demand for them to get out.
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