Cape Town – The dishevelled Springboks return to the United Kingdom from Italy this week facing the threat of further statistical ignominy.
It’s bad enough that they’re picking up booby prizes at an alarming rate over the past year or thereabouts for first-time losses to traditionally greatly lesser powers – the Azzurri just the latest – but defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday (19:30, SA time) would also mean their first winless end-of-year tour since 2002.
Keep in mind that the Boks couldn’t even beat – they had to come from behind for a 31-31 stalemate – an especially hotchpotch Barbarians combination at Wembley in their non-Test tour “limb-loosener”.
If they come a cropper to the Welsh in Cardiff, to add to the 37-21 setback to England and massively damning 20-18 reverse to the Italians, then they will emulate the bleak days of late 2002 when, under Rudolf Straeuli’s tenure as coach, all of France, Scotland and England beat them in November internationals.
Even then, though, the Bok win record for that year ended up being five from 11 matches (45.45 percent); if the Welsh hurdle isn’t overcome in a few days’ time, under-fire Allister Coetzee will slip to a sickly, completed 2016 Test record of four from 12 (33.33 percent).
As it is, he can only claw back to a maximum of 41.66 percent for the calendar year if his vulnerable, uncertain charges do manage to win in Wales.
That already sets him apart in all the wrong ways from at least his last two predecessors: Heyneke Meyer, who a year ago took the Boks to a two-point defeat to New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final, earned 54.55 percent in win terms in 2015, 69.23 in 2014, 83.33 in 2013 and 58.33 in 2012.
Before that, Peter de Villiers earned 55.55 in 2011, 57.14 in 2010, 66.67 in 2009 and 69.23 in 2008.
Yes, a “come back, all is forgiven” chant in either case would be at least reasonably understandable given the current, cloud-covered state of things.
Like it or not, however, simply eking out an industrial triumph over Wales – who beat them 12-6 in the last Millennium Stadium encounter two years ago – will probably be deemed enough by the SARU bosses to secure Coetzee, who would have simultaneously engineered his overdue first away victory, an ongoing ticket into 2017.
It is if they crash again, however, that things could get rather more interesting, with ever-swelling weight of public opinion against the current coaching regime as a whole no doubt reaching boiling point if Cardiff only sees further suffering for the Boks.
Frankly, it is going to be disastrous for the already-flagging Springbok brand if they produce only featureless, jittery, indecisive, dead-end-street stuff once again and Bok enthusiasts know that virtually the same bunch of schemers will be central to their revival quest next year.
Good luck, under such circumstances, flogging those tickets for the three home June Tests (venues yet to be revealed) against France, SARU!
What made Saturday’s Bok slop in Florence look so much worse was the champagne rugby served up soon afterwards by both the world-leading All Blacks (21-9 winners, though it was really tighter than that) and Ireland in Dublin.
Within two or three minutes of that kick-off, you quickly got the sense, in a full-blooded, passionate encounter which combined murderous physicality and defensive effort with sublime bursts of creative rugby, that it was a contest between outfits playing in a superior league to that currently occupied by South Africa.
Not once yet this year -- a highly unusual phenomenon in Bok rugby -- has there been a single display by the men in green and gold giving you tangible hope of a pronounced northward direction; that applies even to the four, all-home victories narrowly landed against Ireland (twice), Argentina and Australia.
The Boks under Coetzee have truly looked up the creek without a paddle, despite the still reasonably valid argument that his appointment at short notice hampered his “prep”, and that a Bok coach deals with certain pressures and drawbacks not experienced by other national counterparts.
Hardly blessed with an array of genuinely attractive, alternative names within his extended touring party to automatically pep up the lukewarm mix – everyone must be quite spooked and demoralised -- don’t expect a thunderous, inspiring selection shake-up for the Wales challenge from Coetzee.
If there’s one fairly gleaming bit of “debris” to pick from the proverbial wreckage, maybe lock enforcer Eben Etzebeth will be well rested and fully cleared of his concussion, suffered at Twickenham last week, to beef the second row.
Small mercies, and all that …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing