Ireland gave Boks reality check

The Springboks are simply not as good as South Africans think they are, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

The Springboks, playing 15 against 14 for 50 minutes and 15 against 13 for a six-minute period, lost to Ireland at Newlands because the visitors were as good tactically as the Boks were poor.

The Boks lost because Ireland were dominant in the collisions and the Boks lost because tactically Allister Coetzee was given an international game plan tutorial from his opposite Joe Schmidt.

Ireland's Schmidt, from New Zealand’s impressive production conveyor belt of world-class coaches, gave Heyneke Meyer a similar coaching beating in Dublin in 2014.

What makes the Bok defeat so damning at Newlands is the Irish played without their imposing South African born and raised loose forward CJ Stander, whose work ethic and breakdown skills were the standout feature in Ireland’s Six Nations campaign.

The Boks did not lose because of transformation and they certainly did not lose because of the referee. They lost to a tactically-superior opponent, whose players deserve a standing ovation for the victory.

It certainly wasn’t the darkest day in Springbok rugby history (that day is exclusive to Meyer’s 2015 World Cup Boks who lost to Japan). It also wasn’t the first time the Boks have lost at Newlands or in South Africa.

The reality of Springbok rugby is very different to the perception created through warped patriotism and a support base that seemingly never forgets the highs in the history of Springbok rugby and never remembers the many lows.

Coetzee took a decision to reward South African Super Rugby form and (with the exception of Bath’s Francois Louw and Toulon’s Duane Vermeulen) picked a match 23 exclusive to South African-based players.

There is an ignorant belief among too many that Springbok rugby does not need the playing qualities of the many world-class South African players abroad.

Meyer, in 2014, realised the folly of this view. He picked only locally-based players for the last Test of the season against Wales in Cardiff. The Boks lost 12-6.

South African rugby simply does not have the depth among the six South African franchises to consistently boast a top-three Springbok standing. It needs to tap into every resource.

Coetzee wasn’t wrong in his identification of which players had Super Rugby form, but he was also picking from a limited base given only the Lions (out of six South African franchises) feature in the top six league standings of the tournament.

Our overall Super Rugby challenge has for some time been dismal. Why would those who have failed in Super Rugby be any different playing as Springboks?

The ignorant view is that transformation is killing the Springboks' global standing. History tells us a different story because since 1891 the Boks have lost 37% of their 445 Tests played.

And since 2007, which coincides with the golden generation of the 2007 World Cup winners and series winners against the British & Irish Lions and Tri-Nations champions in 2009, the Boks winning percentage is even worse at 61.

The Boks against Ireland at Newlands were awful but there have been worse days and in the future no doubt there will be worse days.

Ireland was without several of their regular starting side, most notably flyhalf Johnny Sexton. They should have been competitive but they should not have been expected to win.

Hence the inquest on the 23 who played, Coetzee’s match strategy and the player implementation of a strategy that was not good enough to win, despite a 50-minute numerical advantage.

There has to be acknowledgement of the rugby frailties and accurate assessment of the player quality.

The Springboks simply aren’t as good as we think – and haven’t been for a long time.

Blame referees, blame transformation, blame politicians, blame coaches, blame whatever you want, but ours is still a country whose people largely don’t engage in discussion, debate and analysis.

It’s all emotion. It’s reduced to the simplicity of you are proudly South African or a traitor and an even more ignorant stance that critique is a negative, perspective is a negative (as opposed to accurate or inaccurate) and a proudly South African must simply believe that it’s Boks by 15 every weekend, regardless of form, history or the opposition.

The Boks at Newlands were awful. There has to be accountability of this. The response at Ellis Park and Port Elizabeth in the series-deciding Tests has to be more than just an emotional outpouring of deluded patriotism.

The Springboks are a team closer to five in the world than three – and they have been since 2010.

It doesn’t mean that this is it for the Springboks, just like it didn’t signal the end when the British Lions humiliated the Boks in South Africa in 1974 and when the Boks were humiliated in Britain in the 1960s.

Japan aside, the most embarrassing Bok Tests in recent vintage were the 53-3 defeat against England in London on 23 November 2002, the 52-16 defeat against the All Blacks in Pretoria on 19 July 2003 and the 49-0 humiliation against the Wallabies on 15 July 2006 in Brisbane.

Never lose faith in the Boks, but don’t currently be deluded about the strength of Springbok and South African rugby because the facts, by way of Super Rugby and historical Test success, is very different to perception that it has always been Boks by 15.

Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images