Rugby Championship

Why Newlands MUST be Bok rot-stopper

2017-09-19 06:30
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - There's a pretty important date against a mildly resurgent Australia in Bloemfontein to take care of first ... one that should determine 2017 Rugby Championship "best of the rest", for what it's worth.

But already the return date against the All Blacks at Newlands on October 7 shapes up as a really critical one - yes, dead rubber and all - for freshly embattled Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and his charges.

Simply, how many more truly gory results against the world’s premier side can be tolerated, both by South African supporters and Coetzee's employers at SA Rugby?

It is a stark fact, and something that cannot be sugar-coated in any manner, that the Boks have had an unprecedented, consecutive trio of thrashings from the All Blacks - supposedly our greatest rivals - in his tenure thus far.

They say you are most accurately measured in sport against the best. On that basis, Coetzee's national side have only wilted like Namaqualand daisies in an unseasonal heatwave, three times on the trot.

The last two results (0-57 in Albany and 15-57 in Durban) are not only record bilateral lows for South Africa, but Coetzee's 2016 debut as mastermind against those particular foes was barely happier: a 41-13 loss in Christchurch.

No less (actually, perhaps more?) damning is the try count between the two sides in that time, which is almost too bad to be true if you are Bok-inclined: 23-1.

You read it correctly: 23-1 to the All Blacks.

Let that sink in, if you even can.

So no matter what has happened a week earlier at Free State Stadium, it could be last-straw time for the coach, at least in the eyes of SA enthusiasts, if the Boks only let the sluice-gates open against them yet again at Newlands, where plenty of wags are suggesting NZ come for a virtual "home game".

But it is not that, of course, whatever the expected volume of All Black support in Cape Town, and the need to go properly toe to toe against the old enemy at long last has become most pressing indeed, even if SA victory does prove elusive again.

In defence of Coetzee, gradual dilution of the rivalry had already been occurring to a noticeable degree during the professional era ... though it has accelerated quite violently in his period in charge.

But it would also be short-sighted to venture too brazenly that Coetzee's two predecessors in the period since South Africa last won a World Cup in late 2007, Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer, had a hard time of it against New Zealand.

They did, in some respects, with neither managing a positive win record, yet their matches against the All Blacks were almost always more authentic "contests". And what wouldn't we give for at least that phenomenon in the more recent climate?

In terms of victories, De Villiers stands notably loftier than both Coetzee and Meyer, with five from 11 attempts, a percentage of 45.45 that both the incumbent and his immediate predecessor might bite your hand off for.

Eccentric personality though he was, "Div" also presided over the last two Bok triumphs on New Zealand soil: 32-29 in Hamilton in 2009 and 30-28 in Dunedin (2008).

If Meyer's record of one win from eight cracks (27-25 in Johannesburg, the Pat Lambie late-penalty show of 2014) looks poor on paper, it rather disguises the fact that during his tenure, the Boks ran the All Blacks - often containing such legends as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, plus the Smith-Nonu midfield alliance - extremely close for protracted periods of games.

Even as he stepped down from the hot seat in December 2015, Meyer was adamant he was closing the gap on NZ, especially in terms of getting Bok fitness and tempo levels up and matching their physicality with enough of our own; this writer, for one, was very often inclined to believe him.

The fact that the Boks and All Blacks played out some widely-trumpeted "modern classics" in his time was probably also one good reason why Meyer developed a friendship with All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen - mutual respect was seldom lacking when they went head to head.

Things may change, but Coetzee has got off to an awful start bilaterally, with the average score between the teams over three encounters standing at a historically unprecedented 52-9 in favour of the All Blacks.

On Meyer's watch, it was an infinitely closer 26-18, and during De Villiers’ stint an even more credible 25-19.

If Coetzee doesn’t want to become the coach under whose reign the once-explosive rivalry most palpably became a “myth”, the stuff purely of bygone times, he needs to start clawing things back, stopping the scoreboard haemorrhaging, in a hurry.

A tweet from former England captain Will Carling (@willcarling) in the wake of the Albany debacle only further emphasised the need for that: "Genuinely sad to see Springboks suffer v ABs. Grew up with Boks v ABs as superpowers of world rugby. Hope solution found quickly in SA."

To Newlands, then ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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