Nick Mallett said not one Springbok player would make a combined All Blacks and South African team. I agreed with him at the time.
More recently, Sport24 Chief Writer Rob Houwing compared the class of 2017 to the 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks. Houwing, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2007 winners, picked his best XV from the team that started the 2007 World Cup final and the Springbok team that started in the 25-24 defeat against the All Blacks at Newlands.
Houwing opted for Eben Etzebeth ahead of Bakkies Botha and he made a place for Malcolm Marx and shifted 2007 captain and hooker John Smit to prop.
Houwing rewarded Marx and Etzebeth for their monumental effort against the All Blacks, but he was being kind because if a case was being made for the form of the player at the time in 2007 and now then not one of the current Springboks would have made the starting XV.
Marx played the near perfect game against the All Blacks in Cape Town but a few weeks before that he was inaccurate in several aspects of his play. He would not have featured in a discussion of taking the place of Smit or Bismarck du Plessis, based on their form in 2007.
Etzebeth is a quality lock but I’d still be picking (Bakkies) Botha at his prime ahead of the current Springbok captain.
Some would say it is a frivolous exercise to make comparisons from eras or with other teams but in this case it leaves us in no doubt as to how much the Springboks will have to improve between now and 2019 to stand a chance of winning the World Cup.
What the exercise shows is that the current Springboks, when compared with the best in recent times, don’t make an impact.
Historically, when assessing the winning World Cup team, it would be commonplace that seven or eight of those players are considered the best in their position in the world. In 2007 this was certainly the case. The same is true of the All Blacks starting XV in 2015.
It certainly is not the case with the Springboks at the moment, and for all the heroics in defeat against the All Blacks in Cape Town the side is still very short of world-class players who can challenge for a World XV selection.
It’s a problem because there can’t be an expectation of being the best in the world when not one player is considered the world’s best in his position.
The counter is that the best individuals don’t always combine to make the best XV, but it would be a stretch to think Allister Coetzee’s Springboks, with a nine from 21 record, are anywhere near a best XV.
There is respite from the Springboks in the next fortnight because of the Currie Cup playoffs, and it’s that time of the year when emotion and romance again combine to play with minds and create the illusion that all is swell and well in South African domestic rugby.
A year ago the Cheetahs and Bulls produced a wonderful domestic final in what it offered as spectator value. There was good attacking play and it was easy on the eye. But there were limitations to the quality of player and these limitations were exposed when several of those players were given a chance on the Springboks unsuccessful end of year tour.
The same mistake must not be made when watching the Currie Cup playoffs over the next fortnight. The standard can’t be compared with Test rugby and if there is a case to be made that the Currie Cup playoffs double as a trial of sorts, then it’s a trial for Super Rugby and not for Springbok Test places.
Every year a player or five revel in the Currie Cup playoffs and then flop when picked for the Springboks.
The Currie Cup playoffs should have absolutely no bearing on the Springboks' end-of-year tour selection. The squad is only announced a day after the Currie Cup final, but it may be a case of Coetzee wanting to add more motivation to performance.
Coetzee has to assess the quality of the player he wants involved in the Springboks, as opposed to the quality of the performance in the Currie Cup semi-final and final.
I don’t see Coetzee making many changes from the Rugby Championship squad for the end of year tour, with the reality being the side travelling north wouldn’t have had a chance winning the World Cup in 2007.
And judging by what has been on offer in 2016 and 2017, something dramatic will have to change in 2018 for the Springboks to be contenders for a World Cup in 2019.
It’s the end of year tour that will be the making (or breaking) of the Springboks’ 2017 season; not the Currie Cup playoffs.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
Previous Mark Keohane columns on Sport24:Joost earned more than a minute's silence