The Springboks first task in this year’s Rugby Championship came in the form of 2015 Durban conquerors Argentina.
Los Pumas were never going to be a walkover, but the Boks were expected to at least lay down some sort of marker for the rest of the tournament.
However, what fans witnessed was more of the same from the Ireland series and a team basically only playing rugby in the final 10 minutes.
Will this be enough to topple the likes of the All Blacks and Wallabies? Paul Roos himself, will tell give you a resounding NO!
Inferior statistics and lacking basics
What we witnessed in the first game was a team bereft of a proper game plan, lacking basics and an overall disjointed performance that will leave the All Blacks (who were apparently supposed to be much weaker this season), licking their lips. Lionel Mapoe dropping the ball over the try-line says it all. Certain statistics only amplify this such as 4 missed penalty goals to one, a mere 45% territory and possession, less offloads, less meters run than the opposition and less clean breaks. Our set-pieces were yet again shaky and sub-standard. 50% of any game is structured and in one’s control, in the form of such set-pieces and execution is non-negotiable here. Yes a win is a win, especially in this competition but it goes without saying that nightmares await in the form of two All Blacks matches.
Team selection and captain
By now, the majority of the rugby-loving public is in strong disagreement with a few of Allister Coetzee’s player choices. A guy like Malcolm Marx not even getting a spot on the bench is enough to get the fans all riled up. Adriaan Strauss does not instill any confidence as captain and should be replaced by the combative, inspirational Warren Whitely with Marx as hooker. Jaco Kriel deserves a prolonged starting line-up role at either blind or open side and Rohan Janse van Rensburg should be in the squad at the very least, with centre a problematic position currently. Also, there a certain players who are either out of form or too long in the tooth as they say. These include: Bryan Habana (legend but we need new blood now), Morne Steyn, Damian de Allende, Francois Louw and even Beast Mtawarira by his own standards. The All Blacks are always churning out young blood and you wouldn’t see the need for a Joe Rokocoko in their current team. There are other players who are questionable selections and have the dreaded quota tag on their names. These include: Rudi Paige (the guy is always on the bench but just never gets game time), Bongi Mbonambi and Oupa Mohoje (not a bad defensive game on Saturday though). There are also valuable players who are sadly injured at present: Handre Pollard, Patrick Lambie and Duane Vermeulen. Yes, one might make a case that we do need certain oldies in order to have some experience but Jake White started clean in 2004 and groomed a young crop for the next four years (with just one or two stalwarts like Percy and Os) and it worked.
Yes this has been dissected and analysed to death but Coetzee and his team are simply not up to scratch at this level. Take one look at the New Zealand or even England brains trust and you will see what I mean. The sad thing is that we do have the players to hurt them but without proper coaching, the mission is futile. The Lions have proven that it can be done when you have the right coach. Coetzee seems to be caught between a kicking and running game and there are just simply superior attack gurus to the incumbent Mzwandile Stick. Coetzee’s lack of silverware in Super rugby also makes one wonder. It seems a waste of time complaining as they are here to stay and will pick whoever they want to pick.
Conclusion and predictions
As alluded to above, when Jake White took over after the disastrous 2003 World Cup, one could clearly see the plan and direction that he was taking. His choice of captain was met with grand approval and there was an excitement in the air. Every time we played the All Blacks, we at least hoped for a win and believed it could or would happen. This time, as a die-hard fan of 21 years, it just feels different and for the first time I am truly expecting the worst. Yes it sounds unpatriotic and pessimistic but I would not even bet ten cents on the Boks downing Zealand and I honestly hate that feeling. I looked to rugby and the Boks for excitement and All Black games as something to look forward to the whole year round but instead now pray that the boys don’t get dismantled too much by the current world champions. At the moment we simply lack the skillset and proper coaching to trouble them and may as well simply resign ourselves to constantly losing to them and just accept that.
I predict a narrow win in Argentina (fingers crossed), an away loss to a smarting Wallabies team, who we will in turn probably beat in the home game in Pretoria as well as two brutal losses against the All Blacks (who are from planet Mars). I would like to think these two games will be tight but given the way they took apart Wales and Australia and given our current shambles, that would be asking too much. That would mean 3 wins and 3 losses, for a disappointing second place finish (I am backing Argentina to do one over on Australia as well).
I sincerely hope that I am indeed proved wrong.
Dhirshan Gobind is a respected freelance sports
columnist/writer/blogger. He is a writer for ‘The Sport Freak’
(www.thesportfreak.com), has columns in ‘The Post’, ‘Galaxy News’ and writes
regular opinion columns on Sport24.