Johannesburg - When the Springboks’ season began in June, expectations for the end-of-year tour would have been a lottery result against the Barbarians, an extension of the 10-year unbeaten record against England, a gritty win over a spirited Italy and another infuriating one-point defeat for Wales.
Nine games, four wins and five losses later, those expectations need a drastic rethink in terms of what would constitute a good tour for Allister Coetzee’s men.
So what would be a good result from not-so ambitious aspirations? It depends on who one is speaking to.
Former Bok centre Hennie le Roux would rather keep the expectations at what they were, while SuperSport commentator Owen Nkumane would like to pin targets on the tour of Europe.
“Over the years, we’ve come to expect victories all the way through,” says Le Roux. “But, in reality, we’re going to have to downgrade our expectations. So much in South African rugby has become an acceptance of the mediocre these days.”
Le Roux said England, who have mysteriously failed to beat the Boks in a decade, were chipper going into the November 12 game. This was despite the fact that the Poms, unbeaten since Eddie Jones took over early this year, had lost five of their key players to injury in the build-up to the match.
“They’ve spent a lot of money luring their coach from here [the Stormers], and for him to have beaten Australia 3-0 in their own backyard makes you sit up and take notice,” says Le Roux. “But the question is whether we say we’re rebuilding, and [we] aim at settling for being fourth or fifth in the world.
“That doesn’t sit well with me. We have to aim to win three out of four, or all four games. Others say we should go for two out of four wins, which is [also] disappointing because if the Boks can’t win 75% of their games against northern hemisphere sides, we have a problem,” Le Roux says.
The tour of Europe, starting with the game against the Barbarians on Saturday, is particularly tricky as that fixture falls outside of world rugby’s international window, meaning the Boks can’t field 15 of the players they’ve played thus far because of club commitments.
This has forced Coetzee to pick two squads...one for the Barbarians game and another for the three tests afterwards. That’s why former Bok hooker Nkumane proposes a more pragmatic approach based on setting goals.
“We’ve tried to find ways to manipulate go-forward ball, but our loosies haven’t been up to it,” he explains. “Our first goal should be to find a ball carrier or two on tour, a big brother to get us over the advantage line, so a guy like [Sharks flanker] Jean-Luc du Preez comes into the spotlight.
“The second thing we need to look at is to be able to finish, and our defence also needs to shape up.”
With the recent announcement of Jaco Kriel pulling out of the squad with a knee injury, following incumbent Francois Louw’s omission because of the same problem, Nkumane says there is a need to find an openside flanker.
“In all earnestness, Kriel hasn’t quite done the job when coming on for Louw. He’s not a fetcher and he’s not a carrier either, he’s an in-between player. We need to be brave and pick some of the youngsters we’ve taken on tour.”
With captain Adriaan Strauss retiring from international rugby at the end of the tour, Nkumane says: “Somebody needs to step up as a future leader of this team.”