Cape Town - Springbok lock Lood de Jager described both his own form and his team-mates in 2016 as “shocking” and called for players to take more responsibility for last year’s poor international season.
According to the supersport.com website, the uncharacteristically honest assessment isn’t always seen in players, but De Jager remains one of the few straight talkers in the modern game who is more than willing to put his hand up and take responsibility for some poor form that led to the Springboks winning only four of 12 tests last season.
The results have placed Bok rugby at an all-time low, losing to Argentina and Italy during the season and put coach Allister Coetzee under immense pressure to find solutions or be replaced by SA Rugby.
But De Jager, who has looked exceptionally fit as compared to last season, spoke candidly at the Bulls practice session at Loftus Versfeld about the Boks 2016 season, saying there was way too much “blame-shifting” going around.
“Firstly the players need to take responsibility for last year. I think there is too much blame-shifting from the players’ side,” De Jager said.
“Look, everything is not right everywhere, but as players, we dropped ourselves, we dropped our coaches. We dropped the country last year.
“We were shocking as players. We made a lot of mistakes, we had a clear plan every weekend. We just didn’t execute it.
“I put my hand up there first. There were a lot of handling errors, a lot of system errors that we made and I think we weren’t hard enough on each other.
“That is why we had a terrible season.”
De Jager dismissed talk of little experience in the team following the World Cup, praising outgoing captain Adriaan Strauss for his contribution and admitting that players should have contributed more in the season.
“We didn’t have a lot of experience, but Adriaan and the guys who were there made a massive contribution as leaders,” he explained.
“That wasn’t the problem. We didn’t take enough responsibility as players. As young players you need to have as much responsibility as the captain has.
“You can’t just be there, think you are young and try and do the things you want to. You need to fit into the system, and take responsibility for your role and your job.”
De Jager is looking forward to a much better 2017 season, and has closed the door on 2016 - where he said he had placed too much pressure on himself mentally after winning the 2015 SA Rugby Player of the year award.
“I was overtrained. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I only took a week off after the 2015 World Cup. I played Barbarians, then took a week off and then went straight into a pre-season,” De Jager explained.
“I was tired last year. I told the guys last year that at times before I sat in the changeroom, my legs would be lam (tired). I was tired. I couldn’t get going.
I put way too much pressure on myself and I was mentally exhausted. This year I got away from the game, recharged my batteries and these days if I take a break, have an off day, then I am off, then I don’t think of the game and try and get away.
“Right now I feel good, I feel it will be a very good year for me.”
Wedding bells chimed for the big lock in the off-season, and the change in marital status seems to have given him a lot more enthusiasm for the season ahead.
“I rested. I got married, was on honeymoon and said to myself I wanted to get away from the game a bit. I wanted to recharge my batteries. It worked, and I feel good. I’m looking forward to the games ahead and I’m looking forward to training.
“ I know what I can do if I feel good and right now I feel good. I think it will be a very good year.”
De Jager is set to make his debut for the Bulls in their second pre-season friendly against the Chiefs in Brisbane next month.