Side Entry: Not liking the Springboks is one thing, accusing them of cheating is sour grapes

South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi runs in to score their first try. Picture: Issei Kato/Reuters
South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi runs in to score their first try. Picture: Issei Kato/Reuters

It didn’t take long for the “anyone but England” brigade to turn on the Springboks, who had presumably done everyone a solid by comprehensively beating the Rugby World Cup favourites in the final at the beginning of this month.

It began with noises from perennial, not to mention sour, underachievers Ireland, where it appears none of the shows they’ve done after the World Cup has concluded without one of their presenters or pundits looking to credit doping for the Springboks winning their third title.

Then came the rest of Europe through former England centre Jeremy Guscott and Welsh referee Nigel Owens, who suggested that, to make the game a better spectacle, we should go back to the amateur age, where there were fewer replacements than the current eight on the bench.

The doping accusations began with a photo of the Bok squad fooling around after a gym workout, which went viral because the players – even the likes of the wee trio of Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies and Cheslin Kolbe – looked absolutely ripped.

Then the Boks, who for years have had a reputation of being colossal men with a penchant for running out of puff late in matches, started matching the All Blacks and outlasting incredibly well-conditioned teams such as Japan, Wales and England.

Apparently the main reasons for putting two and two together and coming up with five, like former Ireland lock Neil Francis did, was Bok winger Aphiwe Dyantyi’s withdrawal from the team for failing a drugs test in the build-up to the World Cup, and the fact that doping has become widespread in the sport at school level.

In his column (ah, former locks and credible journalism), Francis used Dyantyi’s pending case to insinuate that he was the only one who was caught in what must have been a widespread, Russia-esque doping scourge within the Bok team, roping in a spike in recent adverse findings at school rugby as proof that there is a doping culture in South African rugby.

It is understandable that, in a country obsessed with size in players before skill, doping is the logical consequence if you’re a youngster.

But to ignore a spike in positive tests as a sign that those doping are being caught, and implying the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited labs in South Africa are complicit, smacks of not letting the facts get in the way of a smear campaign.

The strange thing about accusing the Boks of doping is that everyone who has made the allegation has said they don’t have proof.

If you don’t have proof, there’s no point in saying “but” after admitting it.

Also, a massive part of the reason the Boks have suddenly become indefatigable is strength and conditioning coach Aled Walters, who was picked up by Rassie Erasmus at Munster in Ireland after his brief stint working there.

If anyone has been doping the Boks, surely it would have to be Walters? Yet Francis and co have no problem believing that Munster has always been a clean team, but the Boks aren’t.

The call to change the substitutions laws after Erasmus so brilliantly manipulated them with his infamously brutal six-two split is not new – every time the Springboks are on top of the world, the game always tries to find some new way to nullify their newfound advantage.

The sad thing for me is how the achievements of the most representative Springbok team since isolation – a group that, for a change, were arguably wonderful ambassadors to a man in Japan – are being undermined by talk that is essentially historical, as opposed to anything they have done.

Thanks to our racist past, a laager mentality and a rugby playing style only a mother would love, the rest of the free world finds it difficult to accept that a combination of physicality and unusual smarts have won South Africa a World Cup that could be a watershed moment for this country.

There’s nothing wrong with disliking the Boks, but they must still be given their due.

  • Follow me on Twitter @simxabanisa

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