Blitzboks and Boks – a tale of two rugby teams

Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Johannesburg - One of the enduring mysteries in South African rugby over the past two seasons has been trying to work out how on earth the Springboks and the Blitzboks are run by the same organisation.

Never have two sides been more different, both in outlook and output.

One has specialised in consistently underwhelming us, while the other almost always punches above its bantamweight status.

The perfect illustration of just how differently the Boks and their supposed little brothers approach things was their reaction to recent setbacks.

When the Blitzboks, who are the defending champions of the World Sevens Series, fell at the semi-final stage of the Cape Town Sevens on Sunday, Neil Powell’s verdict of the performance by his charges was unequivocal – not good enough.

Contrast that with the Boks coming back with an expected 50% win record from their end-of-year tour last month.

Allister Coetzee was still rummaging for positives, which hardly ever included winning.

The obvious point of distinction between the two sides is mentality, where the Blitzboks don’t entertain excuses and the Boks seem to wallow in them.

People forget that the national sevens team was a place where the careers of nippy little hot-steppers went to die less than a decade ago.

But instead of basking in their runt status, they decided to be world leaders in a high-speed chess game in which skill, innovation and nerve are the main currencies.

The fans of the 15-man side, who like to see sevens rugby as the equivalent of the Hong Kong Sixes in cricket, will point out that a lack of scrutiny has given Powell – and Paul Treu before him – an opportunity to work in peace and quiet, and not with the deafening noise that accompanies the Boks’ every move.

But it’s one thing to find yourself in that position and another to know what to do when you’re there.

The Boks, who, by comparison to the Blitzboks, don’t have any expenses spared by way of resources, are a classic example of missing opportunities in using their clout as the top rugby brand in the country.

If the tour of Europe told us anything, it was that the Springboks and their performances are, at the very least, second on the priority list of many of the people involved with them.

Jan Serfontein, the country’s best inside centre, was allowed to skip the tour while bedding in at his new club Montpellier; assistant coach Johann van Graan left the tour halfway in to take up his new job as head coach of Munster; and defence and exits strategy consultant Brendan Venter used his right to exit stage left after the French test to avoid coaching against his “other” team, Italy.

Quite how the Boks have come to suck on the hind teat to Italy, regardless of Venter’s friendship with their coach and the fact that they have more money, paints a picture of a brand that is well on the way to being devalued.

While the obvious counter may well be that this was all planned beforehand, last year’s tour – where the Boks didn’t win a single game in Europe – was such that one would have imagined that Coetzee would have wanted all hands on deck to ensure a much more successful tour.

Unless a two out of four record was the marked improvement we were looking for, everyone should have been at their station for the duration of the tour. The picture coming into view about the Boks is that they are trying to be everything to everyone, which has compromised what should be a singular ambition to be the best.

But what do we expect when there is a general reluctance to make hard decisions and mercenary players are allowed to have their bread buttered on both sides?

Because there have been no thorough interviewing processes in appointing both the Bok coach and the director of rugby, the Boks will embark on a third successive playing philosophy and/or culture next year, while the Blitzboks have basically had theirs since Treu won the World Series in 2009.

The moral of this story is that there comes a time when sports teams have to play for something bigger than the individuals and allow that to drive what they do. It’s abundantly clear in the Blitzboks and clearly lacking in the Boks.


Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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