Boks can't get it up
Editor of ArenaSport, David Moseley (File)
Before the 2007 Rugby World Cup the Springboks played a warm-up (more like cool-down) rugby match against Namibia at Newlands. The outcome was known before kick-off, but that didn’t stop rugby fans almost filling the stadium for what was essentially a training-ground run-around for the home side.
Springbok fans will watch their team play anyone, anywhere. That’s why tomorrow’s game against Scotland, hardly a rugby highlight on the calendar compared to what Bok fans have already had this season, will still be watched and dissected by almost everyone who has a passing interest in South African rugby. Fans, mostly, will get it up for any game.
But the Boks themselves? Well that appears to be a different story. There’s no doubt that the boys in green and gold need little motivation when faced with the likes of Australia, New Zealand and England (sadly, South Africa don’t play enough games against France).
In fact, of the three teams mentioned, you can always be certain that the Boks will save their best performance (back-foot or front) for the All Blacks. That the Springboks have the best record against New Zealand out of all international teams is testament to this.Three stumbling blocks
What of Wales, Ireland and Scotland (maybe even Italy and Samoa), though? (For the purpose of this exercise we can exclude the likes of Spain, Namibia, USA et al, who South Africa hardly ever plays).
While the Boks have never lost to Italy and Samoa, their form against Wales, Scotland and Ireland has been somewhat less than exemplary, and certainly less than the barnstorming dismantling of northern hemisphere sides that some Bok fans expect.
Rather bizarrely, the Boks have had few problems against the English in recent years (a team you would expect to hassle the South Africans), and more trouble against the (what many fans would deem) “lesser” nations.
The Irish match has turned into South Africa’s messiest affair when on tour and despite a 26-24 played-won record over the Welsh, they’ve run the Boks close in recent times (South Africa burgling a come-from-behind win in 2010 and perhaps the 17-16 win at last year’s World Cup), the Scots enjoyed a famous day in 2010 (yes, terrible conditions, but a loss is a loss) and have hardly been blown away prior to that anyway (14-10 to SA in 2008, 27-3 to SA in a World Cup warm-up and 29-15 to SA in 2006 being the results of most recent encounters).
In between all those patchy displays the Springboks have managed to win a World Cup, beat the British & Irish Lions in a series, defeat New Zealand three times in one season and give Australia and France the odd donnering. So why do they never produce their best when playing Wales, Ireland or Scotland?
Is it simply a case of fatigue kicking in (to be fair, South Africa tend to play these nations at the end of a long season of Super Rugby and Rugby Championship), or is it that they simply can’t fire themselves up for these games in the same way they would for an England, Australia or New Zealand match?
Even this season, when the Boks have been well below par at times, their worst rugby was reserved for the side you would expect them to trounce – Argentina. Was the lacklustre display in Cape Town and the drawn match in Argentina another example of the Boks not being able to “get it up”?
For further evidence of their inability to motivate themselves against “smaller” nations, look back to last weekend’s first 40 minutes against Ireland. All the talk going into that game was of doing the nation proud, playing for the jersey, giving back to the fans and so on.
What happened? The worst 40 minutes of South African in recent memory. Surely the only answer to such shambolic play, then, despite all the talk of pride and honour, is that the Boks just can’t get it up for the opponents that they, deep down inside, deem to be inferior or unworthy?
Maybe tomorrow they’ll blow this theory apart, but based on recent performances, don’t count on it. David Moseley is a former Features Editor of Sports Illustrated and current editor of sports magazine website ArenaSport. Click HERE to follow ArenaSport on Twitter.
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