What former Bok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Springboks' 20-18 loss to Italy in Florence on Saturday.
‘It’s very similar to the disappointment of losing to Japan. It’s a similar state that I never expected the Springboks to be in. I never thought that this proud nation of fantastic rugby players, would get ourselves into a position where we're losing to Japan and Italy and don’t look anywhere near beating Australia, New Zealand and England at the moment.
'We had players that won the 2007 World Cup, beat the All Blacks three out of three times in 2009, had probably seven to nine players in the World XV between 2007 and 2009. I don’t think there is one South African player who will get into any World XV at the moment, because this is not a good Springbok side and unfortunately we’re not seeing them being coached in a way that is making the best out of their abilities.'
On SA rugby structures and indecision
'I’m sitting here thinking, it's so easy to blame to the coach, but the structures in South African rugby have not worked in favour of keeping our players in the country, of making sure that our best players are coached by the best people and the turnover and churning of an indecision has led to a team that doesn’t know where they are going.
'The Boks look like a team that has lost confidence, lost belief in themselves and in their coach and the rest of the coaching staff. We’re just in a very low place at the moment and I feel desperately sorry for the players and coaching staff.
'We’re in a terrible place and it’s very disappointing. But the Springboks in 2002 went on a tour overseas and the team, coached by Rudolph Straeuli, lost by 20 odd points to France, lost quite badly to Scotland and then got beaten by 50 points by England. So there’ve been periods in the past where we’ve been down and out and one can only hope we can pick up our heads and get out of this.'
On losing players in their prime
'We’ve got to look at this whole year in context. Apart from the Lions, South African rugby overall is in a very depressing place. We saw in Super Rugby the Stormers were beaten convincingly in the playoffs, the Sharks didn’t qualify, the Cheetahs were not performing well at all and the Bulls battled. Our franchises are not doing well. In the past we lost players at the end of their careers, when they went abroad to go and make money for their retirement. For a number of years now, we are losing players who are in their prime. The best young players like Jacques du Plessis, Paul Willemse, Steven Kitshoff playing in the Top 14, WP Nel playing for Scotland and CJ Stander for Ireland. They are the sort of players who will be very good in our Super Rugby teams and will be able to provide us with strength and depth in this country.
'We want to deal with what’s happening on the field, but unfortunately, what happens on the field is a reflection of what happens off the field. How our rugby is structured doesn’t give us the best chance to be as competitive as we can. Unless we get our structures right and make sure we keep our best players and make sure we improve our coaching, it’s not going to get better.
‘You can’t suddenly play a brand of rugby like the All Blacks if you haven’t practiced in Super Rugby. The Lions are the only team that has been playing the winning style of rugby under the present conditions. Whenever we’re under pressure, the tendency is to go back to what we know, which is defending well off set pieces and playing forwards off the scrumhalf. There has to be an absolute mindset shift across the board. You also have to take good decisions. Play an expansive game, but make good decisions. Learn to kick at the right time, kick into space and actually kick to recover the ball. Use the width of the field when there is space out wide and the opposition is covering those wide channels, do the pick-and-gos. Our players need to be coached how to do all of these things.'
On playing without the ball for seven years
'Look how good the Italians’ defence was today. That was not just because they were organised, but because our attack was so simplistic. And it is easy to defend against an attack like that, you just have to be brave. Their defence of the maul was fantastic and we are very fortunate that the Italian lock’s foot went into touch at the end there because they’d have scored again. Our defence of the driving maul was very poor. Although we did create more opportunities, we actually didn’t look like a better team than Italy.
'We just don’t have the skills and that is because we’ve been playing rugby without the ball for the last seven years. We kicked the ball away and tackled our way to victory and now we are required to hold on to the ball and create chances to score. We’ve trained our forwards to be lazy. They never run back if the ball is kicked, because they know we are not going to launch a counter-attack.
'I don’t want to talk about the coach and the captain, because those two guys are feeling the worst out of every single South African. I don’t think the coach or the captain told Bryan Habana not to pass inside to Ruan Combrinck, which would have been a try. There was also an up-and-under that went straight through his hands. Last week JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux also dropped up-and-unders. There are experienced players that are letting the team down. It is a side that lacks confidence, but confidence is a thing that is generated by action.'
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