Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Oh woe ... Springbok rugby in
“tatters” on this “grim” Monday? It’s “rocked”, is it, by the stepping down
from senior office of Peter de Villiers, John Smit, Victor Matfield and almost
certainly various others after the World Cup quarter-final heartache?
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GALLERY: The next
Bok coach?Sell me another one.
There aren’t so many darling buds of
renewal – though there are enough of these, too -- as there are replacement plants
already in brilliant bloom and promising further splendour.
How could there not be, when such iconic
figures as Smit, Matfield and Fourie du Preez, who gave it their all so
honourably against the frankly fortunate Wallabies in Wellington, will be
pretty seamlessly swapped for already-known quality acts like Bismarck du
Plessis, Andries Bekker and Francois Hougaard?
We do not yet know who will replace De
Villiers as head coach, but SARU understandably tend not to like leaving this
berth vacant for too long.
At least one worldly South African who
still commands a significant amount of public respect, Nick Mallett, has more
or less pooh-poohed any suggestion he might be up for another stab.
On Sunday, that ever-bright rugby brain
told presenter Xola Ntshinga on one of SuperSport’s studio discussion shows
from New Zealand that he intended to have a Gary Kirsten-like six-month break
from international sports coaching, while taking his wife to the Seychelles for
a holiday at the outset of it, having ended his tenure with Italy.
Always a decent and down-to-earth fellow,
he modestly said there might be “better-qualified people than me these days” to
do the Bok job, and felt either Rassie Erasmus or Heyneke Meyer could fill the
post with distinction. Some might have added the name of Allister Coetzee as a
credible candidate, too.
Whoever grabs the baton, there seems at
least a reasonable expectation he will genuinely “move the Boks forward”; if
there was one particularly worthy beef with De Villiers during his colourful
and certainly not wholly unsuccessful tenure, it was that he dragged the
national side too sideways in many respects after the Jake White-engineered RWC
win of 2007.
I have been panned by many readers over the
generally high ratings I gave the Bok side despite the exasperating 11-9 loss
to Australia. Fair game, of course -- but I also see that superior judges than
myself mostly followed suit, and even then some.
Certainly second viewing of the match did
nothing to alter my views, and I was even tempted to revise upward my “five out
of 10” for the much-maligned Bryan Habana after closer examination of his
devotion to duty, if still-absent cutting edge of old, for 50 minutes on the
In a nutshell, I remain fairly adamant that
South Africa, inexplicable though it may seem to some, produced arguably their
most compelling and passionate performance of the tournament on Sunday, with
most of the disputed “old guard” hugely to the fore.
There was a particular period, just after
they’d finally nosed ahead 9-8 on the hour mark, when the Boks looked to have all
the goose-pimply swagger befitting their status as defending champions, with
the cowed, tiring Aussies seemingly on the brink of all-embracing surrender.
But there are days on the sports field when
the so obviously better team, mystifyingly, just doesn’t win ... this was one
of them, and good luck to the Wallabies for quite remarkably dodging the
As much as the new SA coach is going to be
a matter for widespread discussion over the next few days, the captaincy void is
another to chew on.
Of course this can be trickier: it may
depend on who the new coach is, first, and whether he holds particularly dear
the philosophy of “best team first, captain later” – especially relevant
following De Villiers’ devotion to Smit as both leader and, much more
dubiously, starting hooker.
This may sound left-field, but what price
the unassuming, yet simultaneously tough-as-teak Juan Smith if he recovers full
fitness from his unfortunate Achilles tendon injury by the start of next
The brilliant Cheetahs blindside flank and
exemplary lineout jumper – that’s not the worst attribute in a post-Matfield
landscape, eh? – turned 30 in late winter, so he may be deemed a bit of an
“interim” choice if a World Cup four years yonder is potentially pushing it a
bit for him (though also not quite the stuff only of fairytale).
But he is a true, lead-by-example
professional with an aura that would rub off on younger Bok players and, if his
long layoff is found to have stripped him of too much pace for an international
loose forward, it is not out of the question that he be remodelled in late
career as a lock.
Schalk Burger should be in the captaincy
mix, too. Are there really people out there who believe this full-blooded
competitor (whom I still fancy warrants another stab at slightly problematic No
8!) looked like a lame has-been at this World Cup?
I’d suggest they were watching second-division
dog racing while the rest of us were glued to the rugby in New Zealand.
A Springbok team that could just look
something like this in a year or two (I fully concede that in some cases we
still await thorough confirmation of Test pedigree) ought to be right up there
with any other nation on earth, I fancy:
Patrick Lambie 14 JP Pietersen 13 Juan de Jongh 12 Frans Steyn 11 Lwazi Mvovo
10 Johan Goosen 9 Francois Hougaard 8 Schalk Burger 7 Juan Smith (capt) 6
Heinrich Brussow 5 Andries Bekker 4 Gerhard Mostert 3 Jannie du Plessis 2
Bismarck du Plessis 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
There are plenty of other talented
greenhorns in the wings, too, whilst my venturing that XV certainly doesn’t
mean I am writing off such potentially balancing “seniors” with gas left in the
tank like Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Gio Aplon, Gurthro Steenkamp and even
Bakkies Botha, who I felt was showing a bit more of his constructive,
“focused” aggression in a Bok jersey this year when not bedevilled by various
disruptions through injury.
Doom and gloom for the Good Ship South
I believe not.
It just requires someone to deftly install
a “turbo” element to the broad Springbok engine.
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