Boks need repair

2014-12-06 00:00

THOSE of us who live in Johannesburg were warned of power outages last ­Saturday but sadly, none arrived to spare us from the horror show that took place at the Millennium Stadium in ­Cardiff.

It should have been simple enough to have switched off the television broadcast but one lives in hope. Most of us stayed with a turgid, tryless ­contest that ended in a succession of farcical errors from both teams.

The Welsh victory brought some ­relief to their supporters and perhaps also to Nick Mallett who is now not the lone Springbok coach to have ­suffered a loss to Wales in over a 100 years of rugby.

The argument of those who still think that the Springboks can win next year’s World Cup is that they were a tired team without at least six players who will make up the core of the team come the next northern autumn.

I can buy the story that it was six key players from being Heneke Meyer’s best team but, after five weeks’ rest during the Currie Cup, surely the boys were not “tired” from playing too much rugby. If anything they looked like a group of tourists who were suffering from the side effects of a ­month-long European holiday.

It is true that last Saturday’s referee made some poor decisions not least of which was the yellow card given to Cornel Hendricks following his slightly clumsy challenge on a high ball with Leigh Halfpenny. That it should have been a penalty was undoubtedly correct but the double punishment of a card was far too harsh. That kind of refereeing makes it foolhardy to mount any sort of challenge for a high ball. It will be better by far to wait for the catcher to come to ground and hammer him then.

Ironically, the Springboks played their best rugby after Hendricks’s dismissal. To keep Wales from scoring during those 10 minutes was a brave effort marred only by Hougaard’s stunning stupidity in taking a tap penalty kick and then booting the ball straight into touch. If a key playmaker can make such a nonsensical decision at a crucial time in a match one wonders if he should ever be in the team again.

One hopes not.

It was difficult to fathom Meyer’s flyhalf selections on this trip. Following the win over the All Blacks, Handré Pollard arrived in Ireland as the anointed one whereupon one poor match in difficult conditions saw him relegated to the bench for the rest of the tour. This is hardly the way to instil confidence in probably the key player in the squad.

Patrick Lambie then ascended to the troubled throne for the last three matches where he had a decent game against England apart from a blunder when his failure to find touch with a heaven-sent penalty led directly to England’s second try within three minutes. Lambie was then ordinary against Italy and poor in all respects against Wales.

So who now, Mr Meyer, is your first choice flyhalf? Morné Steyn?

It is remarkable that, in recent times, all of our current flyhalves have failed to find touch with utterly crucial penalty kicks. Each time the mistake has cost the Springboks the match (twice), or the chance to win a match or a try. The fact remains that the All Blacks have at their disposal four flyhalves who are better than any of those in the current Springbok squad.

It is almost inconceivable that the All Blacks would ever allow their standards to drop as sharply as the Springboks did last Saturday. There is too much pride in their jersey and all it that it means to be an All Black for that to happen. Two losses in nearly 50 Test matches say it all for a team who are the clear favourites to become the first country to defend the World Cup.

In 1999, Nick Mallett’s team were confronted with a similar situation that faces the Springboks next year. A very comfortable group awaits them in the 2015 World Cup but thereafter a tricky path lies in wait. The quarter-final will be against the team who finish second in the group of death that features Wales, England and Australia.

The prize for winning that quarter-final is a semi-final match against the All Blacks.

The thought was floated in 1999 that the Springboks would be better off if they contrived to finish second in their group.

Sarfu made it perfectly clear then that such a thought was unacceptable and there was no further discussion on the matter. One wonders if a different attitude would prevail now.

If the Springboks were to finish second in their group next year they would side step the All Blacks until the final provided they managed to survive a more difficult quarter-final against the winners of the group of death and a somewhat easier semi.

The logic is that the pressures of the final are such that either team can win it on the day even when there is a disparity in their respective strengths.

There is also the consideration that reaching the final would mean a better seeding and easier draw in 2019 but that might be too far off to occupy the thoughts of the class of 2015.

The injury to Jean de Villiers and the surprise retirement from international rugby of Jaque Fourie has left the Springboks with a hole in the backline that may not be easily filled. It would be surprising if Heneke Meyer did not make an effort to change Fourie’s mind but from what one gathers the slim chance of De Villiers being fit enough to recover his place in the team is more likely.

It is ironic that the autumn tour which was expected to have settled the World Cup squad has left Meyer with more problems than solutions and the team with less cohesion and confidence than at the end of the ­Rugby Championship.

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