Dark weekend for ‘tired and listless’ Team of 2009

2009-11-30 00:00

IT was a dark weekend for Springbok rugby as they took a beating on the pitch and off it.

The Springboks, tired and listless, ended their excellent 10-month season on a losing note, going down 10-15 to the Irish in Dublin on Saturday, and their mood was not to improve at the IRB awards later in the evening when scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, in sublime form at Super 14, Currie Cup and Test level, was somehow overlooked as World Player of the Year.

The award went to All Black flank and captain Richie McCaw who was injured for part of the season and was largely anonymous in the three successive Tri-Nations Tests lost to the Springboks.

South African Peter de Villiers, who took the Boks to their series win over the British Lions and the Tri-Nations title, was also overlooked, with the Coach of the Year award going to Irishman Declan Kidney. Perhaps De Villiers has paid a price for going talkabout in front of the international media during the British Lions tour.

There was some sanity with the Team of the Year award going to the Springboks after their victories over the Lions and in the Tri-Nations took them to number one spot on the internationals rankings.

But it was the Boks’ defeat by Ireland at Croke Park which spoilt the weekend for the South African rugby public.

Adding to the gloom was the weekend form and try-scoring ability of their southern hemisphere rivals, New Zealand and Australia, at the end of their long year. The All Blacks, with a 5-0 try tally, thumped France 39-12 and the Wallabies, with four tries to nil, won 33-12 against the Welshmen, who were booed off the field in Cardiff.

In contrast, there were 82 000 Irishmen cheering their team, and goal-kicker Johnny Sexton, to a win over the world champion Springboks.

The inability of the Boks to consis­tently win their line-outs — for the first time this year — and the rare sight of Morné Steyn missing four kicks at goal were critical factors in the defeat and undid the Springboks’ excellent scrummaging and spirited defence, which denied the Irish a try.

The problems were highlighted by Smit after the Test.

“We knew Gert [Small, former Bok coach and Irish assistant coach] would have the Irish line-out well-prepared, but our performances at the line-out and in the kicking let us down.

“We also gave away too many pe­nalties and Johnny Sexton wasn’t missing too many of them. You can’t win Tests if you give away 10-plus penalties.”

Smit was delighted with the Bok scrum.

“It is nice to have B.J. Botha back. We created a lot of pressure at the scrums. It’s ironic that we did well in that area and then did poorly in the two departments (line-outs and goalkicking) we usually dominate to win Tests.”

Irish number eight Jamie Heaslip praised the Boks for their physicality and heroic defence at the end of a long season.

“The Boks are not exactly ladyboys, are they?” Heaslip said. “They are big boys, they hit hard, man, and they have a good work rate, so you have to meet them.

“There was an edge to the game because these boys are world champions and they know how to win.”

Smit said that the disappointments of the European tour should not remove the glitter of an excellent season.

“If you had offered us these results (a win over the British Lions and victory in the Tri-Nations) back in January we would gladly have taken it.

SA Rugby president Regan Hoskins yesterday praised the Boks for their IRB award.

“When it really mattered in the biggest games of the season, this team demonstrated that they were near invincible,” said Hoskins. “Their indomitable spirit and character saw them clinch some astonishing victories against worthy opponents to become the benchmark for world rugby.

Both Smit and De Villiers said the European tour had served a purpose in showing just which of the younger players had the potential to play at the highest level.

But the European tour has also left Springbok rugby with more questions than answers.

See page 18 for match report.

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