Cape Town - Some critics, both more specialist and
especially the zealous amateur ones on social media, had already been
suggesting for a few weeks that the Springboks of 2017 may feasibly
possess "their worst ever backline".
Well, very little transpired in Dublin on Saturday,
where Allister Coetzee's near-gormless, gumption-less charges crashed to
a record 38-3 thrashing from Ireland, to help make a mockery of that
Of course it is a harsh and subjective allegation, one
you could never prove in a "court of law"; we've also had many lemons
down the years behind the scrum before, even if there have usually been
certain redeeming souls with proven reputations
in their midst.
But it is also true that the current situation in that
department - right across the board - looks little short of
The Bok pack didn't exactly set Aviva Stadium alight
as a snarling collective, but there was still just about enough
effectiveness from the engine room for the national side not to have
lost by 35 points, and four tries to nil ... which they
Rugby statistics can be extremely questionable, but
apparently the visitors actually bossed not far off two-thirds of the
territorial battle and edged the possession as well.
It doesn't suggest the front eight men were
unrelentingly gored - not even when Iain Henderson unceremoniously
bowled over second-row rival Eben Etzebeth, the acting Bok captain, in
one spirited rampage.
That can happen to anyone in an unsuspecting or
badly-positioned moment, and because it is an event that usually occurs
the other way around with Etzebeth, of course it gets attention and some
gleeful fist-pumps from the opposition ranks.
No, it was really in jerseys nine through to 15 that
South Africa looked at their most motley, often to a quite frightening
To a man, they looked unacceptably short of
premier-tier standard - though in that regard you are entitled to ask
searching questions of their coaches and mentors as well - and
desperately need the presence, somewhere, of the sort of proven
characters Bok teams immediately before 2016, warts and all, did still
But there is no more Bryan Habana, no more Jean de
Villiers, no more Fourie du Preez to give all-important direction and
Who could you call truly world-class in the 2017
Springbok backline, even before they took to the Dublin pitch? More
wincingly, who could you give that mantle after the particularly
indigestible 80 minutes on Saturday?
We are in the rare, deeply worrying situation of every
single backline incumbent being under a real cloud, and several of them
already afforded shocking charity in regular selection from coach
Coetzee - even as they duly then offer him no
tangible thanks through weight of performance at all.
The Boks were tactically inept in the key scrumhalf
and flyhalf positions, where Lions duo Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies
once again couldn't assert themselves and the kicking game of the
former, especially, was exposed as starkly sub-standard.
Centres Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, albeit not
always receivers of the speediest of ball, were overly predictable and
palpably lacking in deft, defender-drawing skills and passing acumen.
(That awful, inexplicable grubber option by
De Allende when a promising overlap beckoned in the first half will
live long, alas, as a leading match lowlight from a Bok perspective.)
As for the back three, the less said the better, even
if fullback Andries Coetzee - give the guy a crumb of credit - always
tries very hard to hide his limitations in X-factor.
Ireland clearly knew the trio were brittle for a long
time beforehand, and preyed on their mass vulnerabilities hungrily, and
Although at fairly long range in the lead-up period
and without the benefit of thorough medical updates after game one,
below is a substantially remodelled, suggested Springbok side - ask
yourself: could they be any worse? - to try to pick
up the pieces against France on Saturday.
One or two players are a little out of most familiar
positions, but Warrick Gelant has a silky enough stepping and swerving
game to potentially do a job at major crisis area of wing and Handre
Pollard being at inside centre would ease the
pressure on Jantjies to be the playmaker, plus help give the back
division a better spread of smart footballers:
Curwin Bosch, 14 Warrick Gelant, 13 Lukhanyo Am (or Jesse Kriel), 12
Handre Pollard, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Rudy Paige, 8
Francois Louw (or Dan du Preez), 7 Pieter-Steph
du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (or Louw), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth
(capt), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
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