Cape Town - When the going got tough for another besieged post-isolation Springbok coach, Rudolf Straeuli, he tried to knock his charges into shape via the infamous Kamp Staaldraad.
We all know the fallout from that controversial 2003 boot camp ... not to mention the lamentable failure of the controversial exercise to have the intended effect on South Africa’s World Cup challenge that year, as they were eliminated at the quarter-finals and never looked true title material.
Incumbent Allister Coetzee, his grip on the post increasingly tenuous with a miserly four wins from 11 Test starts this year, appears to have taken a leaf from the Straeuli book, albeit to a more moderate extent, by using extreme physical measures to try to cajole victory from the Boks against Italy on Saturday.
It is history now that the Boks crashed to the Azzurri for the first time in 13 bilateral encounters, to leave his tenure ever more deeply imperilled.
On-tour colleague Stephen Nell of Die Burger has written in his Tuesday column that he has it on good advice - and such information usually is sound, in his case - that Coetzee put his men through an old-fashioned koppestamp (English translation: bump heads) session in Florence last Thursday.
I noticed myself on television, the moment that substitute loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff took to the field on Saturday in the 52nd minute, that he was already sporting what appeared a conspicuous black eye.
Nell has written: “I gather … that Kitshoff and (starting lock) Pieter-Steph du Toit’s heads literally connected in a freak accident (at the training session), and the blood flowed.
“There are certain good arguments to justify practices where the physical intensity is parallel to what you would expect in match situations, but two days before a Test?”
The koppestamp has been part and parcel of South African rugby culture - especially at provincial level - for many years, but it is much more common for such intense, bruising sessions to be held on a Monday, for instance, allowing for sufficient recovery in time for Saturday combat.
If the Boks did, indeed, have such an exercise on the Thursday prior to the fateful Italian game, it may go a long way to explaining the favourites’ inexplicable lethargy in general contact and at breakdown clean-outs.
For a side traditionally famed for their muscularity and overall “grunt”, Adriaan Strauss’s charges were outfoxed for commitment, desire and mobility in those departments by the Azzurri, factors which certainly contributed, in the eyes of good judges, to their shock 20-18 reverse.
Perhaps just as significantly, the supposedly mighty outfit in green and gold weren’t exactly bashing down the Italian door to try to force victory in the closing stages - the punch-drunk Boks were instead pinned deep into their own territory as the clock counted down, and came within a whisker of conceding a further try to the host nation but for TMO intervention in their favour.
The end-of-year European tour is a challenging enough exercise for Springbok players, in particular, at the tail-end of the lengthy season in the southern hemisphere, given how much more rugby leading South Africans play annually than, for example, the majority of New Zealand counterparts who are cocooned at appropriate times if their workloads are deemed excessive, or close to it.
Having an exhausting koppestamp so soon before the second-last Test of the year just seems one additional reason for wondering whether the Bok coaching panel are suffering from an acute case of plot-loss …
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