It’s time to look in the mirror

Keba Mothoagae

I was raised not to boo, but 40,000 spectators and I jeered the Boks when they took on Ireland at Ellis Park a few months ago because, in the moment, it seemed to be the only way to give the team a good kick up the backside.

It was the first time since I started watching rugby that I witnessed a Springbok side being treated like that. Such unsavoury moments point to another crisis of faith in the game in South Africa.

As a reference, think about how you felt after Kamp Staaldraad in 2003. Back then, there were at least four teams ahead of the Boks on the world rankings, each beating the forlorn Green and Gold by record margins. And a South African team couldn’t buy a top-four finish in the Super 12. Dark times, they were.

It’s a fact that a Springbok defeat generates more conversation in the social media sphere than a victory! After the loss to Argentina in Salta, passionate rugby folk used social media to indulge in provincialism, racism, classism, vicious outrage and fear-mongering.

Us Bok fans tend to let the fortunes of the Springboks define us in some way, and this might be because we’re under the impression that the game owes this proud rugby nation something. It’s borderline entitlement.

The Kiwis probably have an entitlement complex greater than ours, but they have done all the right things to ensure that their teams survey us comfortably from great heights.

Many South Africans fawn over New Zealand rugby. There’s no arguing with the results achieved by that country’s Super Rugby sides, not to mention the All Blacks. Three-time world champions, winners of 14 of 20 Rugby Championships, and Super Rugby champs in 14 of 21 seasons.

But our blind adoration for the Kiwis frustrates me because it overlooks the fact that the All Blacks are the product of a centralised system which, among other things, keeps their best players on the island, and European clubs at bay.

South African rugby has been successful in spite of a more feudal system where independent provincial unions look after their own interests first, and decisions about the national team fit in around that. To make a bad thing even worse, the weight of influence that politicians, administrators, the media and fans have on South African rugby is probably unmatched by any other professional sport.

In this environment, why shouldn’t our players chase a fatter paycheque in more forgiving climes? Wouldn’t you?

Perhaps it’s time we humble ourselves and admit the shortcomings and errors that have allowed teams we’ve traditionally regarded as minnows to catch up with us. Getting to the point where we honestly address what we are doing wrong will create the platform from which solutions can be found.

Until then, the Boks will “try to play like the Lions while sticking to traditional strengths”, while clearly not buying into the coach’s ideas either way.

Keba works in Supersport’s new media department – he lives for sport, loves rugby unconditionally and has a lot to say. Follow him on Twitter: @Keba_MC

- Keba Mothoagae