Wake-up call for SA Rugby

Until there are some fundamental changes to the structures and systems in South African rugby, the state of the game will continue to plummet to new lows, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

The Springboks’ humiliating 57-15 defeat to the All Blacks piled on the punishment in a nightmare season that has served to further tarnish the Bok brand.

Let’s put the season to date in context. After the Boks suffered their first-ever loss to Ireland at home in the opening Test of the year, they then trailed 19-3 at Ellis Park, and were viciously booed at half-time. Only a late surge saved them that day, while two pieces of Faf de Klerk magic in Port Elizabeth prevented them from conceding the series in humiliating fashion.

The Boks then relied on a late comeback to edge Argentina in their Rugby Championship opener, but they later went on to suffer their first-ever defeat to the Pumas away from home. In the weeks to follow, Allister Coetzee’s charges also lost to both the Wallabies and All Blacks in Australasia.

After returning home, the Springboks did manage to scrape past the Wallabies in Pretoria, but let’s not forget that Reece Hodge missed three penalties, while then came the Kings Park final-quarter massacre.

It’s not far-fetched to suggest that the Boks could have lost every game this year. They might argue that other results could have gone their way if it were for a pass here, or a bounce of the ball there, but they have not recorded one single convincing victory.

They will now head on their end-of-year tour, where they could quite possibly fall victim to both Wales and England. Should they only manage a win over Italy, they’d end the year with a five-out-of-12 record and a shocking 42% win-ratio in the first year of Coetzee’s tenure.

It’s hardly surprising then that the Bok coach conceded at the start of Saturday’s post-match press conference that it was a massive understatement to call it a dark day in Springbok rugby history. In fact, the Bok game now appears to have finally fallen into a full-blown crisis.

Something has to be done. Saturday’s embarrassing defeat has to serve as the final wake-up call that sees considerable changes made to the way the game is administered and run from top to bottom.

Of course, Coetzee ultimately has to accept culpability as the man at the helm of the Boks, but the problems run far deeper than that. Ultimately, there has to be a close look at the structural blueprint of New Zealand rugby, and for as many of those systems as possible to be applied to our game.

Interestingly, there was a similar sentiment expressed by former Bok captain Jean de Villiers in the lead-up to Saturday’s Test. De Villiers pointed out that while every level of New Zealand’s rugby system was designed to enhance the excellence of the All Blacks, it’s not the same in South Africa.

‘Everyone is pulling in different directions,’ he stated. ‘The unions want to use the players for one thing, while SA Rugby wants to use them for another. If we don’t get those structures right in South Africa and fix the way we do things, I don’t think we will be able to catch up.’

After Saturday’s Test, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also moved to point out the key factors that ensured New Zealand rugby went from strength to strength. He highlighted their carefully considered succession planning for both players and coaches following the World Cup, while he suggested New Zealand’s central contracting was their ‘golden goose’.

However, he said just as key to this was the fact that New Zealand had quality administrators making good decisions at all levels of the game and with no other agenda but to produce quality players and ensure collaboration that would ultimately benefit the All Blacks.

This is simply not the case in South African rugby. There is a clear disconnect between administrators and other key roleplayers at franchise and national level. Egos get in the way, while amateurish administrators at minor unions wield far too much power. It’s often a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Later this month, there will be a coaching indaba where the various roleplayers in South African rugby will come together to share ideas and views on the game. Coetzee has admitted he needs to hear the input of others.

Indeed, there is a dire need for far more strategic analysis and planning to be added to a Bok set-up that currently needs all the help it can get. But there also needs to be cooperative engagement between administrators and those on the ground.

South African rugby has to begin to change. Big decisions need to be made about policies regarding overseas-based players, transformation, contracting systems and bringing some form of cohesion into the way the game is run and played through all levels of rugby.

SA Rugby has dipped into a rapid regression, and unless there is a dramatic collaborative effort to begin to work together for the ultimate betterment of the Boks, the All Blacks will simply continue to stretch the gap between themselves and their once highly regarded rivals.

Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images

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