Can Free State Stadium keep Springbok flame alive?

By Toby Shapshak 3 September 2010

A week after Victor Matfield became the only Bok centurion to win his 100th game, coach Peter de Villiers has shamed the nation by backing an alleged murderer. Aren't we supposed to feel better when our team wins? By TOBY SHAPSHAK.

Was it a false dawn or are we about to witness a revival of Springbok rugby? Last week much was made of the guts and determination it took the Springboks to come back from 14-0 after 4 minutes and 21-7 after 10 minutes to hand Victor Matfield a win in his 100th match.

Yes, they won a game they could’ve lost. But as thrilling as the nine-try fest was, this was no great display of defence and everyone knew it. It was Barbarians-style exhibition rugby, with porous defences and more shocking performances. “But that’s not a good performance and certainly not rugby that will win us a World Cup,” John Smit said afterwards. Indeed, if anything, it reminded the country how Captain Colossus can inspire his team. But talk this week hasn’t been about the Springbok’s continued abysmal showings.

No, the once proud Springboks are embroiled in yet another scandal – caused yet again by the mumbo-jumbo verbal diarrhoea that passes for the coach’s supposedly meaningful comments. If any other coach said the things Peter de Villiers did about Beesgate, he’d be fired before the day was out. Shades of André Markgraaff.

In case you missed it, this is what De Villiers said: “We definitely talked about Bees Roux. We feel for all South Africans and especially rugby players. A situation like this could happen to anybody. People are ugly outside, they’re dirty and they try and use everything to stop us from bringing hope to the people out there. It’s a tragic situation and we wish it upon nobody. The team supports him 100 %. Not on the deed, but … how the situation developed.” Huh?

In case you missed this too: Roux, a Blue Bulls prop who has been described as “a gentle giant off the field”, allegedly beat a Tshwane metro cop to death last weekend and is out on R100 000 bail.

Amazingly enough, P.Divvy, who has done everything to ensure he’s the world’s most mocked national rugby coach, made the comments unbidden at a press conference this week. Usually rugby fans have to wait for the post-match press conference for the inevitable P.Divvy convoluted logic about winning and losing being the same thing. This week he got off to a flyer with Beesgate. It’s a situation that simply can’t be allowed to continue.

Now there are rumours government is asking SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins to, er, tackle the problem. It’s utterly remarkable that De Villiers still has his job for purely rugby reasons alone. A year out from the 2007 World Cup, Jake White was almost hounded out of the job, saved by a single victory over the All Blacks in a final Tri-Nations game.

Every time he opens his mouth, P.Divvy makes the South African rugby more and more of a global laughing stock. It’s Kamp Staaldraad-cringeworthy whenever he speaks. Surely this means SA Rugby can fire him. Surely we can get our dignity back.

Oh, by the way, in other news, there’s a game being played this weekend involving the national team of South Africa against the national team of Australia.

The Boks have restored Danie Rossouw to the starting lineup – as Flip van der Merwe was unable to train earlier in the week – while Butch James’ injury necessitates a recall, to the bench, for Gio Aplon.

In Bloemfontein, the Boks will be without the sense of invincibility that comes from playing in Fortress Loftus to aid them in the second half, and questions will once again be asked of the teams’ fitness (especially Smit) and the form of key players such as Bryan Habana.

Habana is a painful litmus test of the cost of the De Villiers era as coach. The IRB Player of the Year in 2007 when he was on fire at the World Cup, he’s a pale shadow of his former self.

According to those fanatical rugby folks at “Telling statistics since De Villiers took over as Bok coach show that Habana has scored just eight tries in 29 Tests, compared to 30 in 36, pre-2008. During the same time-frame against the top five nations, including the Lions, Habana’s record has slumped to five tries in 21 Tests under De Villiers, compared to 15 in 23 between 2004 and the end of 2007.”

The deadliest attacking force South Africa has had since James Small nailed Jonah Lomu in the 1995 World Cup final, last scored against… drumroll… Italy.

P.Divvy might finally be fired for Beesgate, a bit like Al Capone went down for tax evasion. Sure, Jake White faced a similar losing streak in 2006 and a lucky win against New Zealand, who had already won the Tri-Nations that year, in Rustenburg of all places. For the sake of Springbok rugby, here’s hoping Bloemfontein can show some glimmer of greatness again. DM

Shapshak is editor of Stuff magazine, but has twice been sports editor of the Mail & Guardian.

Photo: South Africa’s Morne Steyn (C) is challenged by Australia’s Drew Mitchell (R) and Matt Giteau during their Tri-Nations rugby game in Pretoria August 28, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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