South Africa, Sport

Rugby: The Springbokalypse, continued

By Antoinette Muller 13 November 2016

The Springboks left Twickenham with a bloody nose and a looming aura of discontent that will hang over them for the rest of their European tour as they desperately search for an inkling of redemption. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Another weekend, another miserable result for the national rugby team. South Africa lost 37-21 to an under-par England at Twickenham. The only thing surprising about the result was that the deficit wasn’t bigger, such are the depths to which Springbok rugby has plummeted in the course of the last 12 months. From the moment coach Allister Coetzee announced his match-day squad, brows were furrowed with consternation while others simply shrugged their shoulders in acceptance.

That England played in third gear for most of the match – and were missing a few key players through injury – didn’t matter.

For a brief few moments in the first half, it looked as if maybe South Africa had learnt something and that Coetzee had hatched a plan so bizarre, it outfoxed even a wily old campaigner like Eddie Jones. But not long into the second half it all went to hell in a handcart, again.

The contrasting quotes that came from the management camps speak volumes. Jones was grimly honest.

We have got to get better,” he said.

He might have been forgiven if he had omitted this and focused instead on the fact that England managed to break a 10-year drought against their rivals, but Jones has no time for platitudes.

His opposite number, meanwhile, was left clutching at straws.

It was difficult. Not easy at all. It is tough times but when I look at the team, they do not give up and they keep fighting. I draw comfort from that,” said Coetzee.

It’s tough but you have to hang in there, you have got to keep working and focus on the positive things.”

What exactly these positive were only Coetzee will know. On Sunday, the Boks couldn’t catch, kick or tackle and even though they managed their first try in 280 minutes of Test rugby, it was hardly a consolation.

South Africa’s end-of-year European tour is not even over yet but the post-mortems have already begin. If last year’s showing at the Rugby World Cup was rock bottom, they have now burrowed their way into the earth’s crust and are being consumed by molten rock – and everyone wants answers.

All sporting teams have natural ebbs and flows. For some, it takes decades or centuries to achieve something. For others, the brief blips usually last a few months or years. South African rugby’s blip has been a long time coming. It’s also not the first time that things have been so glum.

Rudolf Straeuli and Harry Viljoen both had brief tenures which are best forgotten and Coetzee looks destined for the same legacy. The Stormers’ boss has increasingly copped the majority of the flak for these lows. This criticism is not without merit – it increasingly looks like Coetzee was set up to fail.

Worse still, his failures will no doubt provide ammunition for those – both on their couches and embedded in the status quo – who still do not comprehend the meaning of the word transformation. The former Stormers boss has inherited one of the worst hands in recent memory and it is bitterly unfortunate that he is a coach of colour in such a toxic climate.

Appointing Coetzee was never going to bring a revolution to the DNA of Bok rugby. His years with the Stormers were characterised by playing according to the argy-bargy blueprint that Springbok rugby follows. Those who appointed him would have known this and they would have expected the backlash that followed. The least those in the know could have done was allow Coetzee to bring in all the support staff he wants to work with.

When Heyneke Meyer’s reign began he had the luxury of doing just that. But there is little evidence to suggest that Coetzee was given the same liberties. Add to that the fact that he was appointed three months late, and the South African Rugby Union (SARU) hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory to assist the man they’ve picked for the poisoned chalice.

All signs point to SARU either not knowing what the hell they are doing or not really caring that the wheels are coming off. The so-called coaching indaba held a few weeks ago was little more than window dressing. The notion of all franchise teams playing a uniformed “brand of rugby” is wonderful in theory, but about as practical as a Democratic Alliance motion of no confidence against the President.

Add to all these woes the fact that South Africa seems to be lumped with a group of players that are so-so (despite being quite good at franchise level) and you have a recipe for disaster.

Solving this issue won’t happen overnight. It might not even happen over a year. And, the further they fall, the less likely any coach would be able to take over such a toxic environment. At the best of times, the Springbok coaching job is the worst job in sport – besides maybe the national football coach of North Korea. At the worst of times, it’s the worst job in the entire world. Now is the worst of times. DM

Photo: England’s Elliot Daly (C) in action against South African players Willie le Roux (L) and Willem Alberts (R) during the Rugby International Test match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium in London, Britain, 12 November 2016. England won 37-21. EPA/GERRY PENNY