Rugby wasn’t the winner in USA

Craig Ray

Imagine you are presenting a product you hope to sell to a huge corporate in a lucrative new market that is also notoriously insular.

You’ve spent years developing the product, you have different qualities of it for different markets and even the corporate you are pitching to has their own, less-impressive version of what you’re selling.

Yours is bigger and better with all the best technology available to you from the best research and development departments in the world. It’s a no-brainer – they will love it; they’ve got to love it, because you arrogantly believe that whatever you’re selling is better than what they have.

So you don’t pitch with your best product, but your mid-range stuff, and you don’t try to include their version of your commodity in the spiel. And then you’re surprised by a lukewarm reception and a ‘thanks, don’t call us we’ll call you,’ response.

That’s exactly what happened when rugby tried to break new ground in the supposed sleeping giant that is the United States of America.

World Rugby sanctioned a game, put on by a marketing company that few have heard of, between two sides that have no real connection to America, in Washington DC, a city that is hardly the sporting headquarters of the east coast, let alone the country.

The Test between the Springboks and Wales was a shambles from the beginning, which eventually had to be ‘saved’ by World Rugby bailing out the promoter to make sure it went ahead because there was no interest from ‘fans’ in Washington.

The match, played between two under-strength teams that squeezed the contest into hopelessly busy schedules, was a predictably turgid spectacle.

Those 20,000 or so Americans who did venture to the 45,000-seater Robert F Kennedy Stadium on Saturday, would have left wondering what this ‘product’ was all about.

Conditions were difficult, but both sides played as though they’d been assembled on the flight to Washington, and in some ways they had. As a rugby sales pitch to America it was the equivalent of sending a mass email promising untold riches if you just handed over your banking details.

World Rugby chief executive officer Brett Gosper was so exasperated he tweeted: “An exhibition game with little exhibited in the first half. Just 40 minutes left to win a few American fans.”

You could almost hear the sounds of weeping from the World Rugby boardroom as millions of imagined dollars from the great expansion into America evaporated.

Which brings us to the actual match. Did the Springboks and coach Rassie Erasmus gain anything from this ludicrous exercise?

Obviously SA Rugby earned a few rand – R9m apparently – but at what cost to tarnishing the Springboks’ already corroded image?

A third defeat in succession against Wales will forever be in the record books. Rassie Erasmus lost his first game as head coach – only the second Bok coach after Allister Coetzee in the professional era to have that dubious record. Erasmus was also the first professional-era coach to oversee his first match away from home though.

And 11 players who made Test debuts, and captain Pieter-Steph du Toit, will forever have their respective debuts tarnished by this loss. And why? Because they went on an almost-impossible mission, given the time constraints, to do rugby’s bidding in a market where there is no evidence to suggest the sport will be anything more than a niche product.

Erasmus is immediately on the back foot with England looming and, even if they had won, he would’ve been under pressure because of the timing of the Wales game.

The only positives to take out of the entire debacle were that some individuals showed they have Test futures. Wing Makazole Mapimpi, centre Andre Esterhuizen, lock Jason Jenkins and hooker Akker van der Merwe looked worthy of another go.

Scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, clearly kicking under instruction, has something about him and established players such as Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw and Jesse Kriel will be in the mix for England.

But we knew that already. We also knew that the USA wouldn’t lap this game up. So, despite travelling to the opposite side of the world, we learnt nothing.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Wesley

    What a shambles, truly embarrassing. The loss for the Boks is only a side-note now and is nothing compared to the damage this game has put on the world stage of rugby. At least 7s is booming and will one day take over as the penultimate staging of rugby anywhere in the world, which in my opinion is sad. 15s should be the greatest feat to play for your country. All that is slowly dying under the watch of those in charge worldwide. I had so much hope for this game but when I saw the crowd and even the weak broadcast and technical skills of the cameramen following the game, it left a sour taste from the get-go which never dissipated as the game wore on.

  • John Comyn

    Very disappointing indeed. Wales B are a better side than SA B which does not say a lot for our depth. All of the focus last week as well as this week should have been preparing a side for the England series. SARU continue to make life untenable for the incumbent Bok coach. I’m not sure if they noticed but NZRU recalled 4 AB’s from the Chiefs side to attend a national training camp regardless of the fact they had an important game against the Sharks on the Saturday.

    • Darren

      NZ can do that as they centrally contract their AB’s and pay their salaries, if we want to do the same we have to centrally contract the Boks and pay up, to do this SARU needs money, to get money they need to can the small provinces and use that money for player retention.

  • humblepie

    Rassie (voluntary or involuntary?) accepted an opening match as Bok coach that had disaster written all over it. Not only was it doomed to fail but it also weakened his preparation for the upcoming England series. It is difficult to understand how SARU could ever consider such a match! SARU increasingly develop a reputation of poor leadership that is only interested in its own financial survival with no long term growth prospects. This approach can be compared to that of a prostitute that has no interest in tomorrow other than earning a few bob tonight with who-ever is willing to pay.
    The endless up-and-under kicks utilized by our scrumhalf also gravely reminded me of yester-year. I desperately considered swopping TV channels as going to bed at that stage was not an option whilst my blood was still boiling.
    I sincerely hope that Rassie will never ever (NEVER EVER) employ this tactic again even if a hurricane breaks loose during the match. I had high hopes for him, still have and plead that he helps me to erase this spectacle from my memory as soon as possible. I was extremely disappointed in Allister Coetzee and publicly expressed my disgust to everyone that was willing to listen. I am desperate for a change of scenery and dream of a day where I can once again discuss Bok rugby with enthusiasm at social gatherings. I don’t expect a miracle, just give me something to be proud of…. please. We don’t need a rocket scientist to see what needs to be done. Go Rassie, go.

  • Ryan

    I feel that this article and a lot of the comments are perhaps too focused on a cup half empty view. There are a lot of factors that come into play when making a decision like this. An important thing to remember is that SARU are not doing brilliantly financially at the moment due to the drastic loss of support that the Boks have recieved over the last couple of years. More importantly although the timing was not ideal and the quality of rugby was poor to say the least, this provided an opportunity to give a lot of new players a chance to experience the international stage in a low stakes game and has allowed certain players to prove they can handle an international stage which actually may benefit the test series against England. Another thing to remember is that as important as the test series against England is, the World Cup is around the corner and Rassie could be more concerned with using the match as preparation for the world cup. The match was far from ideal but I feel that it was a decision that was made after much consideration for the future of South African Rugby.

    • Barry Smith

      Yes agreed, was about to launch into this with similar views and then came your post! The up side for us is the 9m into desperately depleted coffers and a number of new players tested. We now know who should be considered for the England series and who should not! We need to bear in mind that there was no carry over IP from previous administration, so this was a start from scratch.

      • Dean Bright

        You missed the point of my post completely. You ignored the main objective, offering solutions to the problem that has been hampering our teams, from the Springboks to Super Rugby for many years. Why don’t you take a look at the bigger picture.

        No IP? Stick and Proudfoot are both a part of the setup AGAIN! It’s practically the same group of players so don’t make excuses. We’ve been here before with PDV, Heyneke and AC.

  • Dean

    The aim of this one-off Test was to spread the game, and it failed. The rugby was shocking. Quantity over quality has been the order of the day for rugby over a long period of time. Yes, SA rugby is in debt but maybe they should look at why that is and find solutions to the problem, not paper over the cracks. If anything, this showed that SA simply lacks the depth to field 2 full strength teams capable of competing on the international stage. Our second string lost to the Welsh second string and that is damning. I can’t but help think back to the days of Jake White, when a second string Bok side would smash the likes of Argentina, Italy, Samoa and the lesser nations. Now we are struggling to put together a side capable of competing with the likes of Wales. This exercise, as people have rightly pointed out, robbed Rassie of an extra week of preparation for the England series. In international rugby terms that is a great deal of planning missed.

    The system in SA needs an overhaul. It needs to become professional and have quality over quantity. We have 12 Provincial unions who are bleeding money through poor administration. SA rugby should gather all their best resources and put it into 5-6 Franchises of equal strength. 200-250 nationally contracted players with the best coaches available. The Rand, facilities, coaching and infrastructure in SA cannot compete with the likes of Ireland, England and New Zealand. They need to find a way to concentrate their resources and keep the best rugby players from leaving SA. Until that happens, SA rugby will be stuck in amateur era and never progress.

    • Barry Smith

      No Dean, the objective of the one off test was to have a one off test! Neither SA nor Wales are World Rugby’s go to teams, with prime objective to better the ends of the game! If that was the purpose then why not All Blacks playing England?
      The Welsh had three debutant’s South Africa had 13 and the majority of the Welsh players will remain a part of their mid-year test squad, whilst ours will not.
      It is easy to sit on the fence and criticise, but at least this year we are trying to do something about it. The positives are that we had a warm up match, we blooded and tested a bunch of new chaps and we came away with 9m in the bank…not all bad!

      • Dean

        Go and read Brendan Nel’s latest article on this website. It highlights exactly my proposed solution to the issues of SA rugby. There are zero positives to being ranked 7th in the World.

  • Herman Schroder

    While Rassie was handing out Springbok caps by the dozen to players that have been hopelessly out of form and inconsistent in SR the flight of some genuine players with some international experience to greener NH pastures continues unabated.

    The Lions STILL top of the SA Conference ( what does that say about the rest ) are being head hunted across Europe. They know a good thing when they see it. Ackerman has grabbed his son Ruan, Jaco Kriel, Mostert, Dreyer and rumour has it Ruan Janse van Rensburgh will be following as well, Coetzee has signed for Toulon and it’s also rumoured Jantjies is being head hunted as well.

    Warren Whiteley is flying below the radar at the moment but with Kolisi getting the captaincy (and he won’t be losing it in this political climate no matter how bad the Boks are ) he will no doubt be looking at his options as well.

    Alistair Coetzee learned the hard way and Rassie has also ignored the Lions boys especially when he needed a modicum of test experience for the Wales test. Andries Coetzee for Curwin Bosch and Cronje for Van Zyl are just two such examples and should have been the obvious choices.

    As for the lost test match, Rassie got it horribly wrong. His front line 23 should have played against Wales ( no matter what ) to PREPARE them for the England test. Instead we now have another test where the team is going in stone cold. I thought Rassie was a meticulous planner ? He needed to think outside the box but for me he is being a bit naive and is underestimating England as he did Wales, second team.

    It’s no wonder we are ranked 7th in the world with a rejuvenated Argentina breathing down our necks to boot. Bafana Bafana are ranked 76th in the world so by comparison the two teams are probably on a par, lol. Ooh boy !!

    • Dean

      Elton is not Test match material. 24 Test matches into his career and he has not had one commanding performance to remember. He is 27 yrs old, yet he has no leadership qualities. He was shown up by a second string Welsh outfit. Case closed.

      • MAx

        How can he dominate if the gameplan is base on the halfback who needs to decide when to kick or pass, a kick and chase strategy and domination by the forwards. Bull man. He makes everybody but him self around him look good.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Correct my good man. Under Coetzee no one played like a Springbok in his two years and it showed in the results. If expansive rugby is the game plan then there is no one better than Elton including the ‘wunderkind; Pollard. Mitchell the Bulls coach and Pollard at flyhalf and they probably won’t even qualify for the playoffs in a competition where there are more teams in the playoffs than not qualifying, how useless is that. Cheers.

    • Rant

      Lol,! Here we go again. Despite Joke Jantjies being just awful, this guy still feels the Lions should be there. Cronje and Coetzee were present when the Boks lost last year. Sure they got it wrong, but the mistake is Saru’s, this game in Washington should not have happened. You suggest we flew our top players half way across the world while England sat in Durban having a nice preparation. The truth is you are not accountable for anything so your ideas will always be better than a failed plan. Outside the box was using this test to TEST the fringe players while he knows his starting line up. And yes, Jantjies is a fringe player now that he has proven he can’t cut it at international level. Great SR player but can’t take the step up, too temperamental.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Dear Mr Rant, I knew my post would draw you out and wallah you fell for it. First of all my first prediction was spot on that Wales would beat us but I noticed you never commented ?. After your epistles to me earlier I thought you could at least have had the gonads to offer your explanation for the debacle. Rassie’s cock up now continues my long five year prediction record ( before the event by the way ) of the horrendous fall of Bok rugby to 7th on the world rankings. Seems people like you are not fazed by that at all and prefer to shoot the messenger.

        As for your ‘accountable’ comment what a load of ……. Since when are posters accountable for what they write ? They express an opinion and invite debate full stop. Those who should be accountable must face the criticism if they cock up. It’s called accountability a foreign concept in sunny SA by the way. It’s also encouraged by a myopic public who continue to suffer at the hands of the incompetents and do and say absolutely nothing. That applies to most facets of life out here unfortunately. So calling out the incompetents is my preferred option assuming I have your approval of course, lol.

        Rassie is sending in a hodge podge of under cooked Boks to face an England team chomping at the bit. If you call that ‘meticulous planning’ and thinking outside the box then you are more naive than he is my friend. Those out of form inconsistent players that form the backbone of the team for Saturday need MORE game time not less. A warm up game against Wales should have been the go to option NO MATTER WHAT as I indicated in my post. Again, let’s have your prediction considering your take that Rassie has got it right ?

        As for the Jantjies debate I can write a book here on just how wrong you are. For instance people forget that Jantjies had only three caps when he was picked for Ireland in 2016. Beauden Barret was weaned into test rugby over many test matches sitting on the bench while under the mentorship of Carter etc. He was playing in a system that worked and had the best coaches in the world. Jantjies on the other hand was thrown in at the deep end under a coach who couldn’t coach a flea to jump in a team that initially included a hodge podge of local poor SR players and a few overseas golden oldies. Sound familiar ??

        Under the right coach and game plan he is still the only flyhalf in this country that can play the expansive game effectively. If you want to beat the AB’s you need to score more tries than they do, full stop. They have long had the physicality knockers on us so we needed to develop a game plan that met that criteria. The Lions had it and proved it with Jantjies the general. It’s funny that Rassie said if Jantjies had stayed on in the Wales game we would not have lost. He’s clutching at straws imo but there is some truth in it.

        Of all the fly halves in SR which of them has driven their teams to two SR finals ? This year the Stormers ( yes your miserable team I suspect ) the Sharks ( 13 in the Bok squad, lol ) and Bulls are practically out of SR contention with three rounds to go. If your flyhalf is the kingpin of your team what does it say about Pollard, Willemse and Du Preez and here we are talking only SR not test matches ?. Poor Du Preez found that out to his dismay last Saturday. Pollard the supposed ‘wunderkind’ has yet to prove he has it in my opinion. You know he was the flyhalf together with Lambie when they lost to Japan, lol. Even Mitchell can’t seem to generate any real expansive skills in him outside of his fail safe ‘dom krag;’ expertise. So yes you can criticize Jantjies but the alternative is even more ghastly to contemplate.

        So I trust I have answered your little ‘rant’ supplying I hope enough hard facts to counter your rather generalized and at times misguided perceptions of certain teams and players. I look forward to hearing from you and hopefully your prediction for Saturday. Cheers.

        • Rant

          Hahahaha hahaha. You are such an excellent comedian. I was literally rolling on the floor laughing.

          How many times did Jantjies guide SA to victories over NZ? And how many times did Pollard? Check your facts before making any claims.

          As for my predictions, I thought we would win but now that Bissy is out I’m going England by 5. But it is a win win for me because I live in England, am half English and my team, in fact, is Saracens. So you can call the Stormers what you want, I don’t support any SA team other than the Boks. I love watching SR and support all SA teams. But small minded fans who only support their team won’t understand this concept.

          Please comment one of your ridiculous comments here. You know the one, where you completely ignore everything I said and then villify me by twisting my words to suit your Lions agenda.

          Until you make me laugh again…Rant, over.

          • Herman Schroder?

            Hi Mr Rant, it seems brevity is not your strong suit because your post seems a bit garbled. Last paragraph, what’s that all about ?.

            Your changing your tune on the Boks / England game is rather convenient after Saturday’s result don’t you think ? So if Bissy was playing you would have backed the Boks if I understand you correctly ? One player can make so much difference, wow. Methinks you have seen the folly of your ways, lol.

            And just a heads up on your Pollard / Jantjies comment. Pollard in his first test in 2014 scored two tries against the AB’s and the Boks shot into a 20-3 lead. By the end of the game they were behind on the scoreboard ( what’s new and with Pollard at the helm, lol ) and but for a devious intervention by the tv producer Lambie slotted a penalty from the half way line to ‘sneak’ the game. No thanks to Pollard.

            But let’s take a look at more recent history. Springboks / All Blacks Newlands – 2017. Jantjies at flyhalf with Pollard on the bench. After 56 mins Boks leading 10-8 and Pollard replaces Jantjies, Final result SA 24 – NZ 25, If only Jantjies had stayed on, lol. Oh and by the way on that day ( and yes they still lost ) there were only 7 Lions players in the run on team with Marx topping the bill that day. Oh if only there were more Lions in the run on team and Jantjies wasn’t taken off. But hey what did you expect from the coach Alistair Coetzee.

            Note I do my homework before commenting on these sites and then base my comments and opinions on the facts. Maybe you should do likewise. Cheers.
            PS : Laughter is the best medicine my friend as long as it’s not hysterical laughter, lol.

  • John Comyn

    I struggle to understand how you come to the conclusion that Rassie should have used the US game as a warm-up for Saturdays test against England! What – are you nuts? The game was forced on Rassie and he responded as best he could. It may even have be the best thing that could have happened. The players that went on the tour were mostly fringe players and this presented Rassie with the opportunity to see how they perform under pressure. Gatland viewed it as an opportunity to look at players with the WC in mind. Cronje & Coetzee have been given more than enough opportunities and have failed abysmally.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Not nuts my friend just visionary. Is he not sending a hodge podge of out of form, inconsistent SR players and some golden oldies ”’stone cold”’ into a test match against a team that is seriously hurting ?. Remember even though they had a poor Six Nations by their lofty standards, they lost three games by very close margins. What’s more the standard of rugby over there has improved immeasurably so it’s the other teams that have raised their game and not necessarily England that have imploded as a naive Rassie may be thinking. Think Ireland, think Scotland against the AB’s and France. All have improved yet a once rugby super power is ranked 7th in the world. Go figure.

      Please also read my response to Rant just above your post here. Some more ‘facts’ for your edification. Cheers.

      • John Comyn

        “hodge podge of undercooked players” All of these players have played either Super Rugby or an entire NH season not more than 2 weeks ago. So not sure where this comes from! I think Rassie’s record speaks for itself, more especially his time at Munster where he clearly understands where NH teams stand in terms of how they play and what they are capable of. To say he is naive going into this series suggests you know very little. I reserve judgement for after the 1st test!

        • Herman Schroder?

          Well he sure was naive going into the Wales game. As a team the chosen Boks for Saturday have not kicked a ball in anger or played together as a unit at all. The team consists of three overseas players and a blend of Bulls ( expansive rugby wannabees ), Sharks who still can’t string three passes together and a majority of Stormers players who don’t know what the hell game plan they’re playing anyway. Rassie’s game plan will therefore be Dom Krag 101, despite his talking up the expansive game at a recent interview, mark my words. In that case he’ll be playing into England’s hands imo.

          Now you throw them into a test match against an experienced successful test team that has played together for a pretty long time. Half the team are Exeter and Saracens players who know each others game inside out. But Rassie sees no need to give his Boks game time leading up to the test. Ooh boy !!! I’ll stick with my ‘naive’ declaration. Cheers.

        • Rant

          John, great comments. I feel you are fighting a losing battle against this Herman. He has zero capacity to understand other people’s comments and cannot see outside his little box.

          I fear that we waste our rugby IP on this chap but he is a great laugh. Keep commenting champ!

          • Herman Schroder?

            Hi Mr Rant, Currying the favour of my debating buddies maybe ? , News flash, it wont work. Cheers.

  • Mike

    I am a huge rugby fan and Bok supporter as well as a proud American. The moment I heard that the Boks were coming to America I was excited and couldn’t wait to go. I have seen them play numerous times in Europe and couldn’t wait to see them here. I was surprised about playing the game in D.C. as it is not the rugby center of America but I didn’t let that get me down. Then I read that it was a one off game where most of the better players would not be participating. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going and after watching the game I am glad I didn’t go. What a poor excuse of a game. After the 1st half I knew that rugby wasn’t winning over any new fans. On top of that, no television coverage of the game in the states. How is that possible? I am lucky enough to have a few British channels so that is how I watched it. What a disappointment.

  • Len Kope

    Much of what has been already said here is valid . Any group of competent ,rugby-wise players , especially professional fit ones , I would expect to be able to demonstrate that they can actually play . No player last Saturday was ” inexperienced” . That is nonsense. They spend their lives playing rugby at the highest level . What was demonstrated is that the players did not use this opportunity to show what they CAN do , only that it seems that they have no clue .

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