The Springbok coaching team, as well as the players must be held accountable for the worst Test performance in South African rugby history, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Boks went down 57-0 to the All Blacks in Albany this past Saturday to record their heaviest defeat in 126 years. Afterwards, former Bok captain Jean de Villiers denounced the performance as a new low for South African rugby.
Past players took to social media to express their disappointment. Most fans were less measured in voicing their disgust. One Twitter video showed an inebriated fellow ripping a Bok jersey from his body and throwing it into a fire.
Before 2014, a loss to Wales was inconceivable to most. Before 2015, defeats against Argentina and Japan only happened in drug-induced dreams. It’s taken a while for the South African rugby community to realise that, yes, the Boks have regressed to the point where they can lose to Argentina, Japan, Italy and Wales.
The state of the governing body is such that a coach who presides over eight losses in a single season – the worst Test season in South African rugby history – is allowed to keep his job. With things being as they are, we shouldn’t expect the Boks to be world-beaters.
They won’t win the Rugby Championship in the next few years and they will be lucky to progress beyond the quarter-finals at the 2019 World Cup.
That said, what does a defeat of the magnitude of a 57-0 loss to the All Blacks say about the state of the Bok team, the coaching staff, and indeed the system in South Africa? The short answer is that things are far worse than we thought.
There’s no shame in losing to this All Blacks side. England and Ireland are the only teams on the planet that can challenge Steve Hansen’s charges at present. Indeed, it took the home nations’ combined efforts to force a Test series draw when the British & Irish Lions toured New Zealand in June.
The Boks lost seven of the eight Tests played against the All Blacks between 2012 and 2015. There was progress, however, in the sense that the winning margin in the latter four games was seven points or fewer. The worst defeat sustained by the Boks during that period was a 16-point loss in 2012.
Those were the days when 16-point losses, even to the likes of the All Blacks, generated a national outcry. When the Boks lost by two points in the 2015 World Cup semi-final, Heyneke Meyer and his coaching staff were slammed for their tactics.
Two years on, and the Boks, operating under Allister Coetzee and a very different coaching team, have copped some record beatings at the hands of the All Blacks. They lost 41-13 in Christchurch and then 57-15 in Durban last year. Most recently, they conceded eight tries in their 57-0 loss in Albany.
The latter result makes a mockery of the suggestion that Coetzee’s Boks have progressed. The team won five and drew one in the lead-up to the meeting with the All Blacks in New Zealand. There was a lot of talk during that period about their improved playing style and a strong team culture. The optimists felt that Coetzee’s revamped side would surprise a few people in the Rugby Championship.
And surprise us the Boks did, by faring worse that anybody thought they could or would.
The shocking defence. The shambolic display at the lineout. The abject decision-making on attack. The leadership and attitude was also found wanting and that should prompt new questions about the Boks’ culture.
As the head coach and chief selector, Coetzee should cop most of the blame. The Boks’ weaknesses were apparent in the three-Test series against France. It was plain to see that the likes of Raymond Rhule, who had also struggled when facing up to the Australians and the New Zealanders in Super Rugby, was never going to be up to the defensive task at this level. Rhule was targeted by the All Blacks in Albany and missed nine tackles.
As the defence coach, Brendan Venter deserves his share of criticism. Venter was deservedly praised after he orchestrated the impressive defensive displays against France and Argentina. He will need to put his hand up after the Boks conceded 57 points and eight tries. Coaches do get it wrong, especially when fronting the best side in the world. To get it wrong to that extent, though, is cause for concern.
Forward coaches Matt Proudfoot and Johann van Graan should also be held accountable. The Boks’ effort at the gainline was poor and the lineout a complete shambles.
Overall, the Bok attack looked devoid of a clear attacking plan and Franco Smith deserves his share of the blame for that. Again, the series against France, as well as the two games against Argentina may have given the Boks a false sense of confidence regarding their attacking prowess. The Wallabies defence has been poor this season, yet they managed to contain the Boks in Perth. The All Blacks weren’t made to work particularly hard to keep the Boks to zero.
The players themselves need to take a look at themselves. Malcolm Marx’s lineout throwing under pressure wasn’t good enough. Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth didn’t make their respective marks at the gainline, and the loose forwards were equally ineffective at the breakdowns.
The quality of scrumhalf Francois Hougaard’s passing suggests that he may do well to focus on wing in future. Elton Jantjies showed once again why he’s not the man for the big occasion. The centre partnership was shaky and the back-three combination was Currie Cup standard in its defence and decision-making.
The players deserve to be slammed after a 57-0 defeat. That said, one has to remember who put this team together and who has been planning for this fixture since the early stages of 2017. The performance in Albany was as much a reflection of the coaches as it was of the players.
The Boks may bounce back in the short term. They should be favourites to beat a struggling Wallabies side in Bloemfontein on 30 September. Whether they have what it takes to prevent another embarrassment when they host the All Blacks in Cape Town on 7 October, is another story.
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo