Cape Town – The dishevelled Springboks return to the United
Kingdom from Italy this week facing the threat of further statistical ignominy.
It’s bad enough that they’re picking up booby prizes at an
alarming rate over the past year or thereabouts for first-time losses to traditionally
greatly lesser powers – the Azzurri just the latest – but defeat to Wales at
the Millennium Stadium on Saturday (19:30, SA time) would also mean their first
winless end-of-year tour since 2002.
Keep in mind that the Boks couldn’t even beat – they had to
come from behind for a 31-31 stalemate – an especially hotchpotch Barbarians
combination at Wembley in their non-Test tour “limb-loosener”.
If they come a cropper to the Welsh in Cardiff, to add to
the 37-21 setback to England and massively damning 20-18 reverse to the
Italians, then they will emulate the bleak days of late 2002 when, under Rudolf
Straeuli’s tenure as coach, all of France, Scotland and England beat them in
Even then, though, the Bok win record for that year ended up
being five from 11 matches (45.45 percent); if the Welsh hurdle isn’t overcome
in a few days’ time, under-fire Allister Coetzee will slip to a sickly,
completed 2016 Test record of four from 12 (33.33 percent).
As it is, he can only claw back to a maximum of 41.66
percent for the calendar year if his vulnerable, uncertain charges do manage to
win in Wales.
That already sets him apart in all the wrong ways from at
least his last two predecessors: Heyneke Meyer, who a year ago took the Boks to
a two-point defeat to New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final, earned 54.55
percent in win terms in 2015, 69.23 in 2014, 83.33 in 2013 and 58.33 in 2012.
Before that, Peter de Villiers earned 55.55 in 2011, 57.14
in 2010, 66.67 in 2009 and 69.23 in 2008.
Yes, a “come back, all is forgiven” chant in either case
would be at least reasonably understandable given the current, cloud-covered
state of things.
Like it or not, however, simply eking out an industrial
triumph over Wales – who beat them 12-6 in the last Millennium Stadium
encounter two years ago – will probably be deemed enough by the SARU bosses to
secure Coetzee, who would have simultaneously engineered his overdue first away
victory, an ongoing ticket into 2017.
It is if they crash again, however, that things could get rather
more interesting, with ever-swelling weight of public opinion against the
current coaching regime as a whole no doubt reaching boiling point if Cardiff only
sees further suffering for the Boks.
Frankly, it is going to be disastrous for the
already-flagging Springbok brand if they produce only featureless, jittery,
indecisive, dead-end-street stuff once again and Bok enthusiasts know that
virtually the same bunch of schemers will be central to their revival quest
Good luck, under such circumstances, flogging those tickets
for the three home June Tests (venues yet to be revealed) against France,
What made Saturday’s Bok slop in Florence look so much worse
was the champagne rugby served up soon afterwards by both the world-leading All
Blacks (21-9 winners, though it was really tighter than that) and Ireland in
Within two or three minutes of that kick-off, you quickly
got the sense, in a full-blooded, passionate encounter which combined murderous
physicality and defensive effort with sublime bursts of creative rugby, that it
was a contest between outfits playing in a superior league to that currently
occupied by South Africa.
Not once yet this year -- a highly unusual phenomenon in Bok
rugby -- has there been a single display by the men in green and gold giving
you tangible hope of a pronounced northward direction; that applies even to the
four, all-home victories narrowly landed against Ireland (twice), Argentina and
The Boks under Coetzee have truly looked up the creek
without a paddle, despite the still reasonably valid argument that his
appointment at short notice hampered his “prep”, and that a Bok coach deals
with certain pressures and drawbacks not experienced by other national
Hardly blessed with an array of genuinely attractive,
alternative names within his extended touring party to automatically pep up the
lukewarm mix – everyone must be quite spooked and demoralised -- don’t expect a
thunderous, inspiring selection shake-up for the Wales challenge from Coetzee.
If there’s one fairly gleaming bit of “debris” to pick from
the proverbial wreckage, maybe lock enforcer Eben Etzebeth will be well rested
and fully cleared of his concussion, suffered at Twickenham last week, to beef
the second row.
Small mercies, and all that …
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