The Springboks’ blowout against the All Blacks on Saturday is simply a microcosm of a far greater problem facing South African rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the lead-up to the Test in Albany, there were some futile attempts to hype up the clash as a potentially competitive battle between two great rivals.
Understandably, a passionate South African rugby public wants to believe that the Boks will always be able to compete with the best, but the sobering fact of the matter is that the quality of available player resources is diminishing almost by the day.
For far too long, an arrogant perception has persisted that for every talented player to head overseas, another equally capable youngster will be waiting in the wings.
The reality is very different, and the warning signs that have been flashing for some time should now be brought into sharp focus as the dust settles following the ‘perfect storm’ in Albany that saw the Boks blown off the park.
If we’re brutally honest, the young and largely inexperienced team that took to the park was mostly filled with competent, capable players, but how many could truly be regarded as world beaters? Perhaps a handful at best.
By contrast, the All Blacks are blessed with the quality of resources that has seen them continue to excel even in the absence of players such as Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden, Jerome Kaino, Luke Romano, Joe Moody and Owen Franks.
By contrast, the harsh reality is that South African rugby simply no longer has the depth in their player pool to compete with the best in the game. That fact has been painfully illustrated in the last three Tests against the All Blacks (where they have been outscored 155-28), and also when the Boks slipped to a one-sided 37-21 loss to England last year.
Unfortunately, expectations have to be realigned. The Springboks are currently a mid-range tier-one Test team, and the world rankings illustrate just that. So why did anyone expect anything but a hiding at the hands of the All Blacks? It was only blind optimism.
It’s perhaps this belief that our national and provincial teams will always be strong that has allowed an apathy and lack of proactivity to creep into an SA rugby system that sees more and more young players heading abroad, and often without the so-called leaders of our game so much as batting an eyelid.
It should hurt to see the likes of Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Taute, Willie le Roux and Frans Steyn all making an impression abroad. Jan Serfontein and Pat Lambie are next.
Surely we also have to question why it often seems that a move abroad has the ability to bring out the best in our local players, or conversely, but just as importantly, why they leave without having fully fulfilled their potential?
It points to serious flaws in the South African rugby system, where coaching shortfalls, unprofessionalism, politics and poor succession planning can often lead to disillusionment among our players.
To make matters worse, Super Rugby is no longer what it used to be, the Currie Cup is dying a death of slow poison, while the allure of playing for the Springboks continues to be muddied by results such as that on Saturday.
To be clear, that 57-0 loss is just a symptom of a deep-rooted issue that requires far greater attention. The real source of the problem lies in a defective system that has seen our playing resources drained to the point where the Boks will simply never match up to a side such as the talent-rich All Blacks.
The alarm bells are fast becoming deafening, and they simply cannot be ignored any longer.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images