Cape Town – Numb. Just … numb.
That is how already long-suffering Springbok fans were left feeling after the latest chapter of their tumble into obscurity during this grotesque year.
The once-proud, twice World Cup-winning South Africa have been making a habit in the past year or so of surrendering to significantly lesser-light teams for the first time in history, and in Florence on Saturday it was simply the turn of Italy to tick that box with zeal.
A side who had never previously come close to the Boks in 12 attempts – nearest prior margin of defeat was 16 points – produced the unthinkable, straight off a 68-10 hammering from New Zealand (a sorry statement in itself) to deservedly pip Adriaan Strauss’s embarrassed, clueless and punch-drunk troops 20-18.
So much for that “aura” about our game which elements of the Springbok camp had insisted still prevailed, in the lead-up.
It’s not even as though the tourists were hammering away at the Italian line in the closing minutes; it was actually all Azzurri as they came within a TMO call (a correct one, at least) of even adding a third, cherry-on-top try to their scoring column before pinching a Bok lineout anyway to close out the game with a hoof into touch in ecstatic fashion.
The clear pre-match favourites were hampered by some lax officiating, especially in terms of the Italians’ near constant transgression of the off-side law, and a pitch which cut up terribly to make scrummaging a near-dangerous affair, but if a supposed “big ‘un” can’t muster methods around those sorts of drawbacks anyway, it tells you so much more about their torpor.
Yes, that’s how far the Springbok has sunk, in this campaign when head coach Allister Coetzee’s Test win percentage record slumped to a new low of 36.36 (four out of 11).
Problems seem so voluminous that normally expansive Nick Mallett and his co-analysts in the SuperSport studio struggled to find the right words to sum up exactly why the national side has fallen so far so swiftly.
Here’s how I rated the Boks out of 10 in Florence:
Willie le Roux: 6
Has to be given substantial credit for guiding hand in both Bok tries. Either ghosted into or created space with much of the artistry of old. So nearly put Bryan Habana in for a second dot-down with long, floated pass too. Not without gaffes, however.
Ruan Combrinck: 5.5
Bits of real promise, like two slashing bursts through the middle, one of which led to try. But as many gremlins, including wayward pass that fouled up one attack, and a turnover concession in contact.
Francois Venter: 5
Ran some intelligent little lines, and off-loaded well out of tackle in lead-up to first Bok try. Did butcher certain other situations of real promise.
Damian de Allende: 5.5
For little it’s worth in current, grim collective climate, inching closer to sprightly player of 2015. Purposeful, powerful dash along right touchline for his try, and other instances of tricky footwork or strong leg dive.
Bryan Habana: 4.5
Things started so well for the veteran, with typically neat, clinical finish for his ninth-minute try. But then came the unravelling, with several instances of indecision or outright error. Labouring in green and gold for weeks and months … time for younger legs at No 11?
Pat Lambie: 4.5
Good break from deep in lead-up to De Allende try. Otherwise, well less than authoritative … again. Perhaps should be left to regroup for next season.
Rudy Paige: 3.5
Two Test starts on the trot on this tour, a situation he warranted. Alas, it’s just not working out, based on evidence of both London and Florence. Looks sluggish, robotic. No sense of game-bossing.
Warren Whiteley: 4.5
Hand skills came into play at times, and stole one Italian lineout ball. Otherwise, though, still not doing quite enough to suggest he genuinely cuts it at this level, which impedes his fine captaincy credentials.
Willem Alberts: 3.5
Restored to preferred blind-side role after admirable enough “temp” job at No 6 against England, he hardly paid back the favour. Bone Collector didn’t bag too many of those; not nearly enough aggression or purpose at breakdowns.
Nizaam Carr: 3.5
Pretty staunch in the tackle department, but that was about it. Starkly ineffectual in the specialist open-side role, where pilfers were virtually non-existent and Bok ball often came out way too slowly.
Lood de Jager: 4
Bad error of judgement in a kick-off receipt that conceded costly penalty. Also gave away one for not rolling away. Victim of some cynical lineout interference, but where was his mettle in collisions and breakdowns?
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 5
Usual honest shift in what has been a taxing year for him. Signs even he is losing his edge. Very combative and dogged in front-on defence; one fruitful rampage.
Vincent Koch: 4.5
Error-prone, but at least that was partly because he seemed determined not to be anonymous in open play … a fault among some team-mates.
Adriaan Strauss: 4.5
Put himself about, shed a bit of blood … at least you could say that much. Some decent drives and support runs. But at fault for not getting into George Clancy’s ear nearly enough about serial Italian illegalities. As skipper, allowed certain Bok heads to drop too easily, too.
Tendai Mtawarira: 5
Best Bok front-rower on the day, though that wasn’t saying an awful lot. Steady at scrum-time despite treacherous surface, plus one or two useful carries. Like many others, might have offered more cleaning-out oomph …
Faf de Klerk: 5
Nothing special in a berth that looks so fragile for the Boks this year, but did show heart and slightly better sense of urgency than Paige, after replacing him in 52nd minute.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing