Cape Town – Were
you still awake at halftime?
appeared a reasonably common, bitter query among Springbok fans in the
aftermath of Saturday’s unpalatable result and performance in the dubiously-scheduled
first Test of the 2018 season against Wales in neutral Washington DC.
was the first question I was asked by a clearly miffed, cynical surgeon I visited
early on Monday.
“I had to be
… it’s my bread and butter,” I replied with tongue only halfway into the cheek
he was scrutinising after a small procedure performed on it a few days earlier.
In truth, of
course, a 23:00 kick-off in SA time is a challenging, unfriendly television
slot to a lot of people, regardless of whether champagne rugby quickly takes
root. (It rather abjectly didn’t. And in the Springboks’ case … again.)
opening fixture was always going to be an uphill exercise for new coach Rassie
Erasmus, considering the ludicrously limited opportunity for proper preparation
and various other inhibiting factors at play considering the bigger, more
extended task immediately ahead against England.
I stand by
my long-held conviction that the game in the United States should really have
been branded a “friendly international” or something not dissimilar, rather
than given full-blooded Test status.
it was, it ended up being a virtually unmitigated horror show in
muggy conditions explained a certain tactical conservatism from both vastly experimental
teams … but it wasn’t exactly a quagmire, either, and many of us have witnessed
infinitely better rugby spectacles at frigid New Zealand and other stadiums with
whistling wind and driving rain.
torpid exercise really ended up being a challenge over which hotchpotch
combination was … well, less inept.
record, I also feel in the final analysis that the “less bad” team lost: to
their credit, and more as a result of better urgency than any special chutzpah,
the Boks appeared to have gained reasonably decisive second-half ascendancy until
the sadly pivotal Robert du Preez charge-down moment.
Africa won 20-17, from their 3-14 interval deficit, instead of botched it
22-20, much of the cynicism about their showing might well have stayed more
very outcome against a rugby nation we used to beat almost automatically meant
the dubious calibre and style – that word is used especially cautiously -- of
the Bok performance would inevitably be subjected to scalding public and pundit
And why not?
deserves substantially more time before his battleplan is fairly judged, the
harsh truth was that on Saturday the raw Bok side put out only seemed to echo
the joylessness and lack of artistry, continuity or gumption of so much of the
prior Allister Coetzee tenure.
filled with young personnel, and one reasonable expectation for a decent
spectacle in such cases is that callow sportspeople tend not to be shy to
express or assert themselves, even if it means departing just a little
audaciously, single-mindedly from script at times.
independence of thought, or sudden resort to crowd-pleasing, daring instinct,
somehow seemed a million miles away from the minds of most of the players on
debatably only replicated, all too often, the morbid SA fascination of the past
few years with box-kicking (or read: the conversion of known, hard-won
possession into a 50-50 aerial lottery a little further up the park, if we are
even so lucky).
how Erasmus has – correctly, commendably – emphasised so strongly in the
earliest days of his tenure that South African aerial play has slipped some
distance behind that of certain premier nations, it was surprising how doggedly
the formula was stuck to against Wales, with exasperating turnover the major
can be effective, of course, if executed well (note: a freaky Folau in your
ranks helps) but when it produces low returns and is overdone, it provokes
understandable ridicule about how little it provides to the far from unimportant
matter of ensuring an acceptable spectacle to the paying customers.
does nothing to lessen a suspicion that the Boks are at - or very near - an
all-time low for genuine individual “star appeal” in their ranks.
Villiers, Mannetjies Roux, Danie Gerber, Carel du Plessis, Bryan Habana … their
deftness of hand or foot and pure determination not to be too suffocated by
template only enhanced the Springbok name and its allure.
often in more recent times, collective Bok showings have only sparked acidic
debate along the lines of “so where does THAT one rank in the gallery of awful
Saturday was a seriously viable addition to the list, so not the kind of start
Erasmus needed in a domestic rugby climate already punctuated by disconcertingly
low, quite morbid sentiment.
If he sees
off England over the next few weeks -- whether by 2-1 or a sweep -- the new
mastermind will be excused, I imagine, excessive scrutiny over “how” series
success was achieved.
But for the
sake of the increasingly battered Springbok brand, someone – and fairly soon –
need to find a key to the national team not only winning consistently, but
doing so in suitably exhilarating fashion as well.
Or else you
can be pretty sure a deeper haemorrhaging of faith and devotion will follow …
whether the Boks are starting matches at 17:05 or two bloody thirty in the
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