Mind Games: Of course the Boks can win it, but don’t bet your bottom dollar


It’s a question that’s been on every rugby fan’s lips ever since the end of the Rugby Championship in which the Springboks finished bottom of the log: Can the Springboks win the World Cup?

Three successive defeats against the Wallabies, the All Blacks and the Pumas were not what was expected of the Springboks and, in spite of a face-saving return victory against the Pumas in Buenos Aires, Bok supporters are clearly worried.

But the answer is still obvious – of course South Africa can win the Webb Ellis Cup.

The Boks have shown that, on their day, they are the one team capable of beating the defending champions, the All Blacks and, as the record shows, have the beating of all the other teams.

But then a canny inquisitor put a different spin on the question.

He asked: Do the Springboks stand a realistic chance of winning the World Cup?

The sting was in the word ‘realistic’ and, put that way, the answer must be no, they don’t.

The build-up has been too fraught.

The Springboks don’t pass muster when it comes to some of the major elements that have been present in the make-up of all the teams that have won the Webb Ellis Cup – a settled, mature squad, and a confident coach, captain and team going into the tournament buoyed by winning momentum.

You’ve got to say one thing for Heyneke Meyer – he hasn’t left a stone unturned in his search for the best Springbok side to take to the tournament.

But for Jaco Kriel and Julian Redelinghuys of the Lions, everyone who might have had a sniff of being on the plane to England was given a chance – albeit some enjoying a few more goes than others.

Meyer, who has created quite a few new Springboks since coming into the job in 2012, invited 48 players to his training camps this year and deployed 38 in the match-day squads he selected for the five games the Boks played ahead of the World Cup.

He also checked on the availability and readiness of the many who were overseas.

Meyer was painstaking, and you have to concede that the man had awful luck.

Apart from the obvious injuries that befell ranking players such as Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen and Victor Matfield, there were other setbacks that hampered his team-building.

Meyer had plans for youngsters such as Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Arno Botha and Steven Kitshoff, but could not realise those because of the injury scourge.

He got Jean de Villiers back only to have his designated captain break his jaw! – as Naas Botha would say, “somewhere along the line” the pair must have been seriously disrespectful to the Goddess of Luck.

There were too few tests to give Lionel Mapoe, Scarra Ntubeni, Rudy Paige, Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies a proper run and, in the end, the only “new face” he was able to introduce was Jesse Kriel.

The coach could not once field his best pack of forwards. The return of De Villiers had the effect of breaking up a promising partnership that was developing between Kriel and Damian de Allende.

Perhaps it also muddled the mind of Handré Pollard just when he needed the young fly half to be settled – necessitating the return of Pat Lambie and more uncertainty.

On top of this, Meyer was unable to get the transformation balance right, inviting strident invective that the team could have done without.

So instead of the puzzle taking shape, the pieces lie scattered. The World Cup tournament is not the place to try to bring it all together – so the conclusion must be that while the Boks “can” win the tournament, the “realistic” situation is that they probably won’t.

Follow me on Twitter @retiefdan 

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