Springboks

Boks: Their ‘brand’ is suffering badly

2017-11-27 12:50
Allister Coetzee (Getty)

Cape Town - The 1980 cult classic song ‘That’s Entertainment’ by The Jam, their frontman Paul Weller at his finest, positively oozes bleak irony about inner-city life for working class people.

“A police car and a screaming siren, a pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete ... a baby wailing and stray dog howling, the screech of brakes and lamp light blinking ... that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.”

Somehow, a random flashback in my mind to that track on Sunday sparked simultaneous imagery of the current Springboks.

In fairness, maybe it was just because it came not long after the national side had ground their way resolutely enough - though with certain departments way, way eclipsing others - to a 35-6 victory over indisputable minnows Italy in the foggy, frigid and sometimes rain-lashed Padova on Saturday.

One travelling scribe, usually based one floor up from me, had also described the area housing the Bok hotel base as not unlike Paarden Island, the industry-heavy zone on the outskirts of Cape Town’s harbour.

If you are conjuring up mounting images yourself of a certain, general joylessness, it is somehow parallel to the issues the Boks are presently having - in a pronounced way - over the appeal (or rather the stark lack thereof) of their on-field product.

In short, I fear it is losing them fans ... if not necessarily permanently, then at least for as long as the insipid status quo prevails in entertainment value under current management.

We already live in a complex country historically, where not insignificant sectors of the population very purposefully gave their loyalty, not too many decades back, to virtually any opponents of the then all-white Boks under apartheid.

Wooing them back was never going to be an easy process but, aided by two handy World Cup triumphs, more than enough have gratifyingly made the gradual transition with time - or at very least become staunch enough supporters even if they never quite brought themselves to shouting for the “others” anyway.

Hardly helping the climate at the moment, with the Boks’ halo as a once-consistent superpower slipping very fast, is that the almost unfailingly pleasure-to-watch All Blacks have increasingly become something of a Manchester United (at least of the lengthy Alex Ferguson heyday) entity for global rugby union appeal.

Admittedly the “United brand” was pretty influential even before Fergie came on the scene, but it accelerated enormously in his tenure - conveniently accompanying the real boom in sporting professionalism, with associated power and value of merchandise, sponsorship, player endorsements and so on.

In this era where instant gratification is increasingly king and young sporting onlookers, especially, more taken by success and dazzle than automatically keen to show loyalty to their geographical roots, the “product” – my slightly reluctant diversion to further commercial-speak - has to be palatable.

If you use the almost completed end-of-year tour as a yardstick, Allister Coetzee’s Bok charges warrant only a big, stark, red cross in that particular box.

In short, and to use the most moderate of language, it has been tough watching them for three Saturdays on the trot so far, even as two wins have been winkled out against similarly flair-starved foes and “Toetie” doesn’t appear –a wee something to his credit - to have noticeably lost his dressing room, as they say.

Nevertheless, as one who necessarily keeps half an eye on social media during Bok matches, I found it educative noticing, for instance, how many level-headed observers I know or follow on Twitter - who normally watch the “full 80” by SA, come what may - admitted they had switched channels to the often wonderfully up-tempo, partly simultaneous Scotland-Australia clash.

Former Bok fullback Dawie Snyman, also coach of Western Province in a famously all-conquering Currie Cup period in the 1980s, isn’t usually a man of willing, or especially descriptive words in the media.

But he was quoted in Rapport on Sunday, after the safe but hardly sparkling subduing of Italy, as saying the present Boks “don’t play as a unit” and that they “don’t understand the requirements of their positions”.

Even more cuttingly, he said of the backline: “They simply can’t create chances ... their teamwork is diabolical.”

Schalk Burger snr, the uncompromising Bok lock who featured in part of that WP golden domestic trot, similarly cut straight to the chase: “This is very slow and pedantic for a Springbok team ... they don’t do anything special that catches your eye.”

Skill levels and creativity, throughout the trio of northern hemisphere games, have been sorely wanting and I, for one, am not overly fooled by the deceptive 2/3 win situation in the results column - it’s been extremely merciful in pure rostering terms on this 2017 tour that the Boks have skirted both England and the fast-emerging Scots, just another team who could soon push the fifth-ranked SA down another peg.  

Although not on tour, my observance of the UK media as the Boks trudge their way through the European early winter raises an uncomfortable fear that they have simply become a mid-table sort of irrelevance in international rugby, really.

When Sky News did a sport update on Sunday, featuring a few snippets from what they call the “autumn internationals”, the Springboks didn’t get a single second of video and even their result against Italy was absent as scores flashed along the bottom of the screen.

Bok aura? I reckon it has seldom been in so deep a trough.

Urgent, profound coaching/strategic change for the Springboks? I’d say it’s an absolute no-brainer ... unless they somehow want to haemorrhage devoted followers even more swiftly than I suspect they might be right now.

Rip up the script at year’s end, SA Rugby ... or only give more impetus to a ruinous downward spiral. 

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby
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