Are All Blacks the Bok yardstick?

Fans are wringing their hands at the thought of the Springboks being routed in Wellington on Saturday, the AOR team debates whether it’s reasonable to measure South Africa against the All Blacks.

Zelím Nel – Yes
I mean, the only reason it’s got anything to do with the All Blacks is because they’re double-parked in our spot on the World Rugby rankings.

After England, South Africa has the most registered players in the world (almost twice as many as France, ranked third on the list). And, unlike England, SA’s players aren’t soccer rejects settling for the RFU’s promise of ‘beers and lifelong mates’.

South Africa produces quality in quantity like no other rugby nation on the planet, which is why there are thousands of Saffas crunching rivals on the club and varsity fields of North America, Europe and Australasia. Just like you’d expect an immigrant from Russia to brush his teeth with Vodka, SA’s legion of emigrants has a reputation for playing rugby to a high standard.

This pedigree is not translating into Springbok success anymore because we’re playing with both hands tied behind our backs. The combination of a weakening currency, amateur-minded, inept administration and a government invested in using the sport to harvest votes would have completely wiped lesser rugby nations off the map.

The fact that South Africa can still beat the likes of England and Ireland – wealthier rugby programs that benefit from infinitely more professional coach and player development structures, and no political interference – bears testament to the resiliency and quality of our talent.

South Africa has won two World Cups and three Super Rugby titles in spite of these obstacles. Imagine what we’d do to the cheating Kiwis if the playing fields were level?

Rather than accept sliding standards and declining results, stakeholders should turn their attention to breaking the bonds that hold the Boks back.

Tank Lanning – No
“We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but we are looking at those one percenters,” said Warren Whiteley earlier this year. He was referring to Dave Rennie’s philosophy on high performance rugby that sees the highly-regarded coach happy to spend time on becoming just one percent better at a single facet of play, such are the margins at the apex of the sport.

But while Steve Hansen, coach of the world champion All Blacks, is focusing on the one percenters, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is explaining his decision to substitute hooker Bongi Mbonambi before half time, and why he chose to leave scrumhalf Embrose Papier on the bench, lest they become political footballs used to net him an own goal.

And while Kiwi scrum guru Mike Cron is working out ways to counter Steven Kitshoff, Bok forward coach Matt Proudfoot is at a press conference explaining why it’s not about getting a win against New Zealand this weekend, but about “developing a team that’s competitive at the World Cup and represents South Africa as a nation.”

A noble cause indeed, and one that will bear fruit in the future, but in an elite environment where a one percent improvement in a single facet of play can mean the difference between winning and losing, it is factually impossible to compete with the best if one is not wholly and solely searching for ways to win.

Throw in the macro economic factors that sees Erasmus touring the world begging clubs for the use of our Rand-avoiders, and an administrative infrastructure steeped in gravy-stained ties from the amateur era, and it’s easy to understand why the Boks can no longer compete with the singularly focused All Blacks.

A five-point loss to the Aussies in Brisbane? Yep, that’s about right … For now!

You’ve read what they think, where do you stand in the Big Debate?

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Chris Mouton

    While Zelim’s point has some merit regarding talented players, South Africa don’t have the coaches at senior levels to harness and develop that talent. We have to look at the reality. The reality is that the Springboks are 7th in the World Rankings. Fact. The All Blacks are 1st. Fact. The only teams that are coached and organised well enough to potentially beat the All Blacks are Ireland and perhaps England.

    Rugby in Australia is not a national priority, so the fact that they’re 5th in the rankings is not too bad when taking their player pool into account. Rugby in South Africa used to be a national priority, but at the moment there’s no national buy-in. Instead the government wants to invest in our soccer, but the soccer sucks, so now they’re trying to influence the rugby. In the future the 50% demographic might be possible without lowering the standards, but at the moment it’s not. Add to that the lack of quality coaching in general across the board at our senior levels and you’re sitting with a national team that can’t do the basics right. It seems as if our players have lost the ability to recognize space, tackle, pass accurately and make good decisions. How the hell are you supposed to coach strategy and tactics to the players if they’re not able to do the basics right?

    We need more than one percent improvement in order to compete with the top levels again. We need a lot more than one percent and it’s time for the players and the coaches to take the responsibility to up-skill themselves so that they don’t become international embarrassments. A lot of hard work is needed to get into the top 3 in the World Rankings and it’s up to the players and coaches to put in the hard AND smart work. Working hard means nothing if you don’t work smart.

    • John Comyn

      I’m not sure coaching is the problem. Most of our coaches that work overseas are successful. I think it is more the way SA rugby is structured. It is also not so much the players. Generally our boys do well overseas and are in demand.

      • Mike Stoop

        It is coaching. Compared to Australia and New Zeeland, we don’t have that many coaches at senior sides in Europe. With guys like Fleckie and Robert du Preez considered to be senior coaches in SA, I do not even have to present an argument. The names speak for themselves. The have no real pedigree or long term mentoring behind them. Fleck never coached a senior club side before he became provincial coach (he moved form assistant at UCT to assistant at the Stormers, where he was privileged to be mentored by one A. Coetzee). Du Preez coached a varsity cup team, before being vaulted to the level of provincial coach. Nollis Marais went from varsity cup to Currie cup to Super rugby in two years. Now Victor Matfield reckons he is ready for the Bulls after a couple of seasons as assistant coach. I don’t think our system works at all.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Totally agree. I assume your ‘privileged’ AC comment was tongue in cheek, lol Cheers.

  • John Comyn

    To add to our woes – the travel factor is ridiculously skewed in favor of the teams down under. If we played OZ and The AB’s in a bi-annual 3 match test series like back in the day I reckon we would be highly competitive.

  • Albert


    Well, it’s not a black and white answer really. Our overall yardstick, as with every other nation, is New Zealand because the goal is to be No.1.

    However, we can’t even beat Argentina and Australia at this stage, so perhaps we should forget yard sticks and just focus on those improvements to be No.6, then 5, then 4, and so on, until we are consistently playing like the second best team in the world. Only then can we focus on consistently beating NZ. A one off win means nothing in the grand scheme of it all, just ask England who went and beat NZ and then failed at the following World Cup.

    SARU is failing and it is clear in that none of coaches have been able to consistently produce competitive matches. I won’t be surprised or upset (such is the lows of our once mighty Boks) if NZ whip us this weekend. I am finding it increasingly difficult to be optimistic when it comes to SA Rugby.

    Sorry, but my pint glass is empty, and not even Rassie can fill it. :(

  • humblepie

    I agree with Chris that we will need more than 1% improvement to beat the AB. It is clear to any objective observer that we are performing way below par relative to previous generations. I am also concerned about the post-match responses from the coaches that almost exclusively focus on mistakes made and then imply that this has costed them the match. Mistakes are part of the game and it will be naive for a national coach that has very limited time to coach his players to assume that this will change. Focussing on mistakes is also a very negative approach in which you hope (dream) that one day everything will work out perfect for your team. A better approach is to focus on positive measures that are easier to control such as scoring enough tries in order to absorb the impact of the occational mistake.
    As far as Proudfoot is concerned, it is high time that he puts his money where his mouth is. Too much talking and not enough substance. He continues to entertain us with opinions such as that Mbongani and Marx is on the same level etc. He continues to insult the intellegence of rugby supporters. Is this representative of the quality of his engagement with adult Springbok players during coaching sessions? Not an encouraging thought.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Another spot on post. Rassie is either purposefully taking us for fools or as you say is completely naive in his thinking. The sooner he hands over the reins to someone with a real vision for SA rugby the better. Where he’s going to find this someone is anybody’s guess so the pain and suffering will continue until the WC is over. Cheers.

    • Barry Smith

      I am so behind you on the Proudfoot issue! His CV goes something like Forward assistant University of Noth West, then an unsuccessful spell with Tuti at Province, both came close to being fired, next stop Springboks!! With respects, the chap just doesn’t have the credentials at this stage to be coaching at international level. That is why we are seeing buddy selections and lack of cohesion come scrum time. We have and deserve better!

  • Gary

    The ABs beat Argentine without many of their established players. The fringe players did not miss a beat. In Super rugby, they rest their stars and still win. They don’t whinge about players going to Europe, they just bring the next guy through. We have a much bigger pool of players, what’s wrong? Why can’t our centers pass? Why do young guys come into the side full of promise, but never improve or move to the next level?

    • Barry Smith

      Gary, it’s centre not centers. Damian got 12, ran 10, passed 2 made total 14m? Esterhuizen made 34m passed 8! We have the players we just don’t select the pale ones!

      • Mike Stoop

        You really are beginning to sound like the Herman of the Sharks. Tone it down on Esterhuizen. I would love him to be the one, but he isn’t. Neither is D’Allende. They really are much of a muchness. Unfortunately, “the One” will probably only emerge after the World Cup. Maybe Harold Vorster should be given a go. I don’t hold out much hope though. Rassie values experience above all else. So these two are it for now, and of the two, D’Allende is the most experienced. At the moment I would sacrifice the left of my two reproductive organs for Jan Serfontein to play inside centre at the World Cup.

        And don’t be too hard on the “centres/centers”. It is the fault of the American English spellchecker.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Except my case is stronger. Cheers.

  • SweetAz

    Its simple really, a fish rots from the head. The ANC is the head of the country and we can all smell the stench. Likewise, SARU is in charge of rugby and the same stench is apparent. Both these “heads” are supported and perpetuated by legions of incompetents, hangers-on and “buddies” with the last link in the chain the hapless voter/rugby supporter.

    In both cases, the real lovers and builders of each entity, et al Rugby and South Africa are now reduced to such small minorities that we really have no influence and are at the mercy of the great unwashed. It is, in fact, an irreparable situation and Bok rugby has not yet reached its nadir. We are not even on the same planet as the AB’s, never mind the same league and this situation will not improve due to the macro factors beyond our control. i.e. The Big Vrot Fish.

    I have mentioned a few times on this forum a guy named “Rugga Bugga” with his Youtube Chanel,–I don’t know him or have any affiliation with him but he posts a lot of sense and some great video’s, here is his Top Twenty WORLD Schoolboy teams.

    Note who is number one and you will see the comments mostly agree with him, some of them even Kiwi’s and Arsies. The fact is that at Schoolboy First 15 level the two Rotten Fish Heads have limited influence. They can’t force schools to do anything and Schools employ competent people,—unlike the two mentioned entities. The result,—a largely merit-driven system manifesting in the best Schoolboy Rugby Teams on the planet. Unfortunately, at the next level up, National Age Group Rugby the influence of the rotten fishes take over and the decay sets in.
    In the words of the immortal and beneficent Winnie,—” Its time we take our matches and tyres and liberate Rugby”

  • Christo

    Sweetaz you talk the most sense I’ve seen in years. I fully agree with you.

  • Barry Smith

    To answer the question asked, I would have to go with Zelim. The day we do not compare our selves to the top team in the world is the day the doors should be locked and the key chucked in the ocean.

    • SweetAz

      I think that ship sailed a while ago,—Titanic was its name if I’m not mistaken.

  • Herman Schroder?

    The AB’s are 14.17 ranking points ahead of us. That is the difference between us and the 18th ranked Uruguayan team. That puts into perspective just how far behind the AB’s we really are. Of course I may be being a bit unkind to Uruguay here I’m sure even they’ll give us a run for our money..

    • Herman Schroder?

      Correction to above ( no coffee in the house ). Should read 13.17 ranking points above us and Romania as the equivalent. Cheers.

      • Chris Mouton

        Yeah, as I mentioned above, there’s a hell of a lot more needed than 1% improvement before the Boks can become threats again. To be honest, maybe I should go out for a coffee during the game in order to spare myself the pain. With no coffee in your house I assume that’s your strategy? LOL

        • Herman Schroder?

          Have one on me. Cheers.

  • humblepie

    I made a decision to tape the game on Saturday and watch it later with the remote and fast forward button close by. My Saturday is too precious to waste on stampkar rugby. Fortunately Proudfoot warned us upfront that this is going to be their approach. The stadiums are empty and I suspect so does the TV audiences. Some time ago I stopped watching the First XV TV show due to its incredibly superficial and poor quality. They are on par with the Springbok concoction.
    I am more keen to watch Curry cup and look forward to Superrugby 2019.

    • Evan Snyman

      So, admit it, you watched all 83 minutes, and even rewound sections to watch them again?

      So many of the comments above have merit, our coaching structures in this country are woefully inept and there is no obvious succession plan that allows top school coaches to hope to make it to the next level. Schoolboy rugby remains the source of our success, but there is little future for them in this country to make a living especially now that we have culled the number of professional contracts. Politics in sport and the many historical rivalries continue to divide our sport.

      And yet, I can only hope to fulfil my role as a supporter (a critical one at that, but still a supporter). So having cancelled my DSTV subscription (which I only had so that we could watch sport), I trundled off with my 10-year-old to our local, and sat and shouted and chewed nails together with a guy named Richard who I only know on Saturdays, and several other regulars. Because it is all I can do – support.

      I’ll admit it – the fact that we won even convinced me to brave Ellis Park and shout loudly for the Streeptruie that afternoon. (Was it just me, or did Province have more support in the stadium than the Lions did?)

    • SweetAz

      Good move, you can even just delete it if it goes really badly and all your aggravation and time saved.

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