Roll out those Bok 'oldies'
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
John Smit tries to rally his troops (AP)
Cape Town - Let’s accept, shall we, that to an even greater degree now the Springboks are going to look “backwards” in their bid to go forward at the World Cup?
That is the conclusion that can best be drawn, I believe, from another ugly dunking for their largely second-tier squad in the Castle Tri-Nations Test against the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.
Say what you like about some rather glaring instances of cynical obstruction and the like by the home team and Alain Rolland’s excessive tolerance of it: we’re living in a dream world if we believe that poor officialdom was the root cause of the latest, six-tries-to-one walloping for the Boks.
The result adds to an increasingly unappetising list of heavy post-isolation South African capitulations to the old enemy.
And yes, I wouldn’t blame any proud Boks of previous generations - some of whom would have put their bodies on the line in New Zealand mud after weeks of sea passages and an array of other tough tour fixtures - for either turning in their graves or spluttering into their whiskeys over the surrender of another supposed “Test match” by a bunch of rookies clearly not yet best equipped to defend their patch in the richest traditions of this duel.
We must not be too cruel to these ill-prepared lambs to the slaughter - some of them will emerge stronger for the sobering experience to grace the jersey more honourably down the line, and hopefully in positional combinations far less untried than some thrust chaotically onto the paddock at Westpac Stadium.
Sometimes you must simply doff your cap in pure admiration, too, when Cory Jane produces a try of the virtuoso brilliance he did or when Zac Guildford streaks away for the touchdown in the corner from the kind of offload the current All Blacks have got down to an art-form so much more than most other top-tier nations.
But the fact remains that, however hopefully you may wish to cling to the occasional bursts of promise from these naive Boks on the day, they were still responsible for a record reverse on New Zealand soil, the 33-point difference eclipsing the 28-0 outcome at Dunedin in 1999 under Nick Mallett’s tenure.
Indeed, an unwanted new landmark in that department would probably have been reached had Dan Carter, otherwise wickedly inventive in open play, not had a rare, iffy game off the tee.
Where does it leave us? In broad terms - and obviously with a few exceptions - with a deeper faith and desire than a week or two earlier in the crusty characters who have stayed behind with the intention of flexing altogether greater muscle in the remaining Tri-Nations home fixtures (where it is imperative now that the Boks re-establish at least some modicum of momentum and respect) and then the defence of the World Cup.
Many observers know that it is a policy fraught with certain perils.
Just how badly do the medal-winners of four years ago really desire a repeat act? Can their 2007 “engines”, as it were, muster the required strength and sharpness to savour the chequered flag once more in the dynamic, Australasian-sparked climate of 2011?
Yet there is simply no time left for Peter de Villiers and company to contemplate any other formula but the one they’ve clearly long intended pursuing.
With South African set-piece play, especially, under scrutiny for all the wrong reasons this year - wow, the scrum was gory in Wellington - it is tempting to consider whether it is even wise exposing a known lineout master like Victor Matfield to too much activity in the Durban and Port Elizabeth return Tri-Nations matches shortly.
It is a delicate situation because, as much as cocooning him for the World Cup has to be a key quest, he also can’t hit a World Cup too entangled in cobwebs.
And who wants the much-required stamina and bravery of a Schalk Burger to fall foul of, say, a freak cracked jaw or broken hand in mid-August?
From the ashes of Saturday’s unpalatably one-sided encounter, I would suggest very few scorched souls worth saving as fuel for the Boks’ RWC fire, if you were to judge things purely on these particular 80 minutes.
Big Danie Rossouw and Jean Deysel did their commendable damndest to inject vigour in driving play and grunt in the mauls, Gerhard Mostert’s debut in the second row was reasonably lion-hearted, and if Juan de Jongh can turn those promising little exploitations of midfield half-gaps into more decisive raids over the advantage line, he might also grace rugby’s highest stage with aplomb when required.
Pat Lambie? Hmm, how fair would it be to negatively judge a youngster so obviously deprived of quality front-foot ball and arguably steelier than other Bok lightweights in the tackling chore?
Otherwise, though, for better or for worse, it’s increasingly about men we already know so well ...