EVERY Bok backline berth unsettled

Cape Town - Some critics, both more specialist and especially the zealous amateur ones on social media, had already been suggesting for a few weeks that the Springboks of 2017 may feasibly possess "their worst ever backline".

Well, very little transpired in Dublin on Saturday, where Allister Coetzee's near-gormless, gumption-less charges crashed to a record 38-3 thrashing from Ireland, to help make a mockery of that viewpoint.

Of course it is a harsh and subjective allegation, one you could never prove in a "court of law"; we've also had many lemons down the years behind the scrum before, even if there have usually been certain redeeming souls with proven reputations in their midst.

But it is also true that the current situation in that department - right across the board - looks little short of poverty-stricken, desperate.

The Bok pack didn't exactly set Aviva Stadium alight as a snarling collective, but there was still just about enough effectiveness from the engine room for the national side not to have lost by 35 points, and four tries to nil ... which they nevertheless did.

Rugby statistics can be extremely questionable, but apparently the visitors actually bossed not far off two-thirds of the territorial battle and edged the possession as well.

It doesn't suggest the front eight men were unrelentingly gored - not even when Iain Henderson unceremoniously bowled over second-row rival Eben Etzebeth, the acting Bok captain, in one spirited rampage.

That can happen to anyone in an unsuspecting or badly-positioned moment, and because it is an event that usually occurs the other way around with Etzebeth, of course it gets attention and some gleeful fist-pumps from the opposition ranks.

No, it was really in jerseys nine through to 15 that South Africa looked at their most motley, often to a quite frightening extent.

To a man, they looked unacceptably short of premier-tier standard - though in that regard you are entitled to ask searching questions of their coaches and mentors as well - and desperately need the presence, somewhere, of the sort of proven characters Bok teams immediately before 2016, warts and all, did still command.

But there is no more Bryan Habana, no more Jean de Villiers, no more Fourie du Preez to give all-important direction and assurance.

Who could you call truly world-class in the 2017 Springbok backline, even before they took to the Dublin pitch? More wincingly, who could you give that mantle after the particularly indigestible 80 minutes on Saturday?

We are in the rare, deeply worrying situation of every single backline incumbent being under a real cloud, and several of them already afforded shocking charity in regular selection from coach Coetzee - even as they duly then offer him no tangible thanks through weight of performance at all.

The Boks were tactically inept in the key scrumhalf and flyhalf positions, where Lions duo Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies once again couldn't assert themselves and the kicking game of the former, especially, was exposed as starkly sub-standard.

Centres Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, albeit not always receivers of the speediest of ball, were overly predictable and palpably lacking in deft, defender-drawing skills and passing acumen. (That awful, inexplicable grubber option by De Allende when a promising overlap beckoned in the first half will live long, alas, as a leading match lowlight from a Bok perspective.)

As for the back three, the less said the better, even if fullback Andries Coetzee - give the guy a crumb of credit - always tries very hard to hide his limitations in X-factor.

Ireland clearly knew the trio were brittle for a long time beforehand, and preyed on their mass vulnerabilities hungrily, and almost constantly.

Although at fairly long range in the lead-up period and without the benefit of thorough medical updates after game one, below is a substantially remodelled, suggested Springbok side - ask yourself: could they be any worse? - to try to pick up the pieces against France on Saturday.

One or two players are a little out of most familiar positions, but Warrick Gelant has a silky enough stepping and swerving game to potentially do a job at major crisis area of wing and Handre Pollard being at inside centre would ease the pressure on Jantjies to be the playmaker, plus help give the back division a better spread of smart footballers:

15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Warrick Gelant, 13 Lukhanyo Am (or Jesse Kriel), 12 Handre Pollard, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Francois Louw (or Dan du Preez), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (or Louw), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (capt), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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