Losses don’t result in lasting ache

Recalling only glory while dismissing failure is a big flaw in the South African rugby mindset, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

The biggest disappointment about the Stormers' home play-off qualifier was the Cape franchise’s failure to even land a blow.

The Stormers, underwhelming in everything they did, were overwhelmed by the Brumbies – a team that only a week before got destroyed in Canberra when the Crusaders said goodbye to legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter with a crushing bonus-point win.

South Africa has no representation in Vodacom Super Rugby’s semi-finals for the first time since 2003, and 2003 proved to be the darkest of rugby years with the Springboks’ 20-point World Cup quarter-final defeat to the All Blacks and revelations of the infamous Kamp Staaldraad.

The rugby week began poorly for South Africans.

First, the Junior Boks were everyone’s favourite (even the New Zealand-obsessed bookies) to emerge victorious in the World Rugby U20 Championship. Then England matched the physicality of our boys, showed up our lack of discipline and flourished as the granite within the Junior Boks turned to putty.

It’s a line I’ve used so often (granite to putty) and it’s about as clichéd as any South African performance when a team physically stands its ground.

Rarely in more than 25 years of writing professionally about South African rugby have I celebrated (in column inches) through prose designed for winners the success of a South African rugby team, whose players did it with rugby intellect, minimal ball and a physical presence inferior to those they’d just defeated.

Such articles are regularly written within Australian and New Zealand rugby. How depressing a weekend! The disappointment of the week. Mourn it. Feel it.

Don’t dismiss it just yet on the hope of World Cup glory because unfortunately it's the South African way to dismiss our failures as easily as we do the success of our opposition.

A New Zealand mate, a year ago, said this of the All Blacks-Springbok rivalry, in which the Boks have won 14 of the last 51: 'Your blokes remember the ones you won and we remember the ones we lost'.

That is the current state of South African rugby. The losses are so many, across so many different competitions, that the hurt and pain (or whatever it is a supporter and player is supposed to feel) is numbed to the point of there being no lasting ache.

But let us win what is deemed a big one and the open-top buses are out for a ticker tape parade … as happened when Western Province won a Currie Cup competition that's all about development and a feeder to Super Rugby.

Our sevens team started the season brilliantly but gradually Fiji gained ground and it was Fiji who beat the Blitzboks in the season’s final tournament to ensure a first World Series title in more than a decade.

New Zealand lost the series for the first time in five years and the South African way to soften the disappointment of the Blitzboks was to point to New Zealand’s rare failure. Forget they’d won the series more than 10 times.

It has been a similar situation in Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship. New Zealand teams have won the titles so many times they can’t remember off the cuff the when, the where and the how.

It’s so bad in South African rugby we can actually tell you the time of victory … The Boks versus All Blacks … that would be 2014 Ellis Park … 79th-minute penalty from 55m … kicked by Pat Lambie … courtesy of a TMO decision based on a TV producer who found footage of Liam Messam’s high challenge on Schalk Burger in an incident a minute before New Zealand turned over another ineffective Bok attack.

The nature of the last-minute win meant few wanted to or have looked into the Boks’ leading 24-11 and then trailing 25-24. But for a hometown broadcasting decision the story would have been of another glorious All Black comeback; alternatively an inglorious Bok implosion.

Well, it’s all up to the Boks to save 2015 as a rugby year.

The Blitzboks, the Junior Boks and our Super Rugby franchises have delivered no gold. The succession of rugby failures won’t suffocate the enthusiasm of the average South African supporter; nor will it restrict the chest beating or arrogance in the belief that the Boks never lose. They do lose – 37% of the time since they first played Test rugby – and will lose at some point this year.

But until they do, the South African rugby support base will seek solace in the possibility of the Boks winning the World Cup later this year and the reality of losing the World Rugby Sevens Series, the World Rugby U20 Championship and abject failure in Super Rugby that culminated with a Stormers’ 20-point home play-off qualifier thrashing will never rate as highly as any New Zealand once-off failure.

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images