Cape Town – Put on your post-World Cup Springbok
hat for a minute and contemplate the words that follow.
“They were a well-drilled, highly skilled
but regimented team, who lacked flexibility and the flair for improvisation
needed to take them to the next level.
“There was no doubting their professionalism
and commitment, and they were fierce adversaries, but I believe that sometimes
they wanted the outcome too much and neglected the various processes along the
“Precision planning has a part to play in
Test matches, but so does the need to take control and dominate a match rather
than allowing it to run its own course.
“Every so often, I felt the computer
analysts around the South African team were having too much of a say rather
than the ‘gut instinct’ perceptions of the guys in the heat of the battle –
playing it safe and by the book will make you competitive, but it won’t win you
the defining games that allow you to ascend to the top.”
An independent expert’s take on the Bok
side which ended third at RWC 2015 after a stuttering tournament?
It might well have been, don’t you agree?
But no ... they’re actually the words of
Australian cricket legend Steve Waugh, from his 2005 autobiography Out of my Comfort Zone and referring to
the sometimes fatally unadventurous SA Test side of the 1990s and early 2000s,
who all too often played second fiddle to a dashing Baggy Greens outfit in the
midst of a champagne era.
It was the sort of period of bilateral
domination not unlike New Zealand’s depressingly widening mastery over South
Africa at rugby these days.
In more recent years, of course, the
Proteas have quite profoundly evolved their style of play to embrace a more
up-tempo formula, earning some memorable series triumphs over the Aussies along
the way and marching proudly to the top of the Test standings, a berth they
command to this day (let’s not get too paranoid yet about that first-Test
hiccup in India).
You could argue that the process began
under the tenure of Mickey Arthur and his initially naive but ultimately
trend-altering “brave cricket” principle, and was built on further by the likes
of Corrie van Zyl, Gary Kirsten and incumbent Russell Domingo.
Along the way, the Proteas have earned
friends and admirers the world over, with individuals like AB de Villiers, Dale
Steyn and Hashim Amla earning noticeably reverent followings in the game’s
commercial and spectator hub of India and beyond.
If anything, the Springboks’ once fairly
pronounced global footprint at rugby has faded a bit in recent times, with the
All Blacks’ brand – obviously aided by becoming the first team to bag repeat
World Cups – only booming in a climate featuring a broadening (at last) appeal
for the game beyond its traditional boundaries.
For many years the Boks traded, if you
like, neck and neck with the All Blacks, and as the Webb Ellis Cup-holders and
comfortably No 1-ranked side steal more and more marches on a South African team
seemingly stuck in a stubborn time warp, so the Boks’ own “brand” is simply
pushed back into the mundane midst of a chasing, labouring pack.
Naturally just winning consistently is a
tried-and-trusted way to build your profile and revenue flow on the planet –
ask the Manchester United of Fergie times, or the Liverpool of a few years
before that -- but New Zealand’s ongoing, fulsome commitment to a truly 15-man
style of attacking play must go a long way to providing key additional impetus.
Professional pressures or not, team sport
remains an avenue for entertainment first and foremost, and the All Blacks’
chutzpah and the obvious enjoyment that drives them must be an ever-swelling
lure for rugby-loving neutrals.
If I were among senior SARU personnel, I
would be worried by the increasing number of All Black flags flying from
vehicles or jerseys worn on the streets here, because I no longer believe the
overwhelming majority of them these days are necessarily related to the
complexities of South Africa’s stormy political past.
The All Blacks are an appealing product, finish and klaar.
They are a rugby team unencumbered by fear
... though in yesteryear, believe it or not, so were many Springbok teams.
Starting almost immediately, it is time for
the Boks to tangibly infuse some joy back into their play, whatever steps may be
required to set the ball rolling.
I am often just a little cynical of past
Boks publicly lamenting perceived failings among the present crop; it can be
such an easy, opportunistic soapbox to mount.
But at the same time, the much-publicised
initiative of Wynand Claassen and Divan Serfontein to drum up support for
alteration to the Bok coaching regime contains aspects that will strike a chord
with many observers, however painful and blunt they many seem.
I am not quite ready myself to surrender
all hope for Heyneke Meyer, who has previously dipped extremely promising,
under-rated toes in attacking waters as a coach at both national and franchise
level, only to seemingly wince and disappointingly withdraw them again.
But if he is to get another few years in
charge, at the very least it should be insisted he present a detailed,
committed template for Springbok rejuvenation and plain old “watchability”.
A bit like the Proteas did to good effect in
the years when one Stephen Rodger Waugh was no longer central to the arrangements
to torment them ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing