These Boks were… fun!

Keba Mothoagae

For elite sports teams and their supporters, a 50% season win rate is unacceptable. But if you’re a Springbok diehard, you’re forced to accept that middle-of-the-road “success” rate after what we have all been through in recent years.

There is no denying that there have been encouraging improvements under the tutelage of Rassie Erasmus in 2018. The years 2016 and 2017 under Allister Coetzee were absolutely regressive wastes which hamstrung the progress of South African rugby as a whole.

Now, there is an identity and plan that the 30+ players who donned the Green-and-Gold since June have clearly bought into. This is all the more apparent in selection policy, where there is certainty in who starts in which position, and who deputises where – the hallmark of any team intent on making progress after immense upheaval.

What did go wrong was that the Boks only put together one 80-minute performance all year – the 26-20 win against Scotland at Murrayfield.

This was the only victory South Africa got having not fallen behind at any point during the match, underlined by an impressive example of game management after Willie Le Roux was sent to the sin bin just after halftime. Every other win was a spectacular rollercoaster ride of poor execution saved by heart and grit which got the boys over the line, like the Miracle Of Wellington and The Stomach-Turner at Ellis Park.

It’s gutting to think that the win-loss ratio could have been a lot better had the Boks not gone out of their way to donate victories to Wales in Washington, Australia in Brisbane, New Zealand in Pretoria and England in London. They were thoroughly outplayed at Newlands in the third Test against England and Argentina in Mendoza, while the loss to Wales last Saturday was deserved, so I won’t bother shedding tears of regret.

South Africans have been obsessed with “building towards the world cup” since we won the William Webb Ellis trophy with our first roll of the die in 1995, but next year’s tournament may arrive roughly two years too soon for this group.

I refer to a mini-twar on Saturday night after the Cardiff loss as context. The tweeter exaggerated things by saying South Africa would be lucky to get out of Pool B in Japan, with me sniping back that it would take a monumental collapse to sink against Italy, Canada, Namibia and the All Blacks. However, he touched on the “lack of skill, intelligence and basically everything” that constitutes the current rugby landscape, be it coaching or the players.

I was stumped because, even though it’s not the complete truth, it is not exactly a lie. The decade starting 2010 has been a very bad one with the only highlights being the Bulls winning Super Rugby at the start and the Springboks winning 11 out of 13 Tests in 2013, which is as good as it’s been for us these past nine years.

My Twitter counterpart’s point is about the regression of our game which exposes itself regularly at Test level, and the statistics are stark in support of his assertion. The Springboks have been reduced to a team that will beat and lose to anyone, the epitome of inconsistency, and it makes them more of a banana peel than a favourite at the global showpiece.

Gloom aside, the biggest takeaway for the season is how… fun… it was watching the Boks over the past six months. These lads gave their all in absorbing winning and losing efforts, and at no point did they shame themselves or the jersey.

Of course, I’m not one to condone mediocrity in the win-and-loss column, but progress has to be acknowledged.

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Follow Keba: @Keba_MC

- Keba Mothoagae

Let's chat

  • Howard

    As a diehard Cheetahs supporter the sentiments of the writer resonate with me.
    I enjoy (mostly) the style and play of the Cheetahs – the flair and the exuberance – the ability to beat the best and lose to the worst.
    You get used to winning and losing. – and learn to deal with both. The ecstasy and enjoyment of an extrovert Cheetah performance makes up for an at times dismal and dour display.
    AND now it appears we need to take the same approach with the BOKS. Enjoy the game and appreciate a win, but expect to be saddened more than you would wish!

  • SweetAz

    Good article, as you say the stats can’t be argued with BUT and it’s a big but for the shortsighted, people need to have perspective and put things into context.
    Firstly at the risk of being called all kinds of names, in the last 25 years of Bok Rugby has been part of the same societal change EVERYTHING in SA has been exposed to and there are a myriad of factors which have had an influence, be it political interference to just plain “old boys” clubs perpetuating bullshit. To expect Bok Rugby to be the shining light of brilliance and consistency in this putrid mess is just unreasonable. We only have to look at Eksdom, Transnet, SABC, SAA, Bafana Bafana etc to see many examples of failure. The Boks don’t live in a cocoon somehow sheltered from everything else in SA,—just ask Naka Drotske.

    So at the risk of becoming excessively langdradig let me get to my point,-For the first time in 25 years SARU has had the foresight to understand that what is wrong in SA rugby is the lack of cohesion, succession planning and the continual loss of both resources (players) and IP (coaches). Their solution has manifested for the first time in appointing a coach/Director of Rugby for 6 years to try and address these issues. RASSIE IS NOT MEANT TO BE A COACH FOR 6 YEARS.

    There are no quick fixes and I believe over the next few years we will see this policy bear fruit as systems get implemented and everybody starts to understand their roles in the big picture. As you said the main benefit has already become apparent as it should be clear to everyone that this Bok team is more confident, happy and having fun than what I have seen in a long time.

    Unfortunately, like the poor and retarded we will always have some people like your twitter foe (what a good name for a place where twits congregate,–I sometimes think it should be called Twatter) who are mired in provincialism and stupidity unable to see the big picture.

    • Herman Schroder?

      First the old Political inferences then the SARU / Rassie marriage of convenience where Rassie is employed to implement a policy based on reverse racism and then moving on to your rose tinted summation of where SA rugby is supposedly at the moment.

      I mostly agree with the political side of your post but that doesn’t take a genius to work out in this day and age.

      Your SARU / Rassie opinion is however pure delusion. SARU in conjunction with their political masters are at the core of the problem. If real merit selection was the overriding criteria for Bok selection then we would have had no need for the HM’s, AC’s and Rassie’s of this world these past 9 years. The Franchises would all be on the same page instead of most of them still playing Jake White’s 2007 hit.

      A decent world class coach from overseas could have sorted this mess out in a jiffy ( without interference ), the migration overseas would not have become a tsunami and the Boks would have had 9 years of developing a suitable game plan based on modern principles. All the domkraggers who plodded out this year would have been eliminated by now as being unsuitable for the modern game and the Franchises would have been competitive instead of cannon fodder for NZ.

      The bigger picture says nothing has changed. Rassie did not have to rebuild a team this year imo. The majority of his team, apart from scrumhalf and the two wings, have had several years of rugby behind them, mostly playing with each other. Why did they not gel quicker ? 14 tests later and no one’s the wiser about our future prospects.

      A happy fun loving Bok team you say. If you want fun you go to a circus. Fans pay big money to support their team and expect highly paid professionals to deliver the goods. What fans have been subjected to these past 9 years including this year is nothing short of abysmal assuming you have a reasonable standard of expectation. Win one, lose one, pox one is certainly not what Bok rugby should be about.

      You final paragraph I will not respond to, instead I will treat it with the contempt it deserves and ignore it. Cheers.

      • Greg Shark

        hermie….. what do you know about the core problem? In the last week had a very interesting meeting and conversation with a ‘boss man’ from a major union. The REAL PROBLEM is MONEY! and until the dog’s tail (the 6x little rural unions) have their full vote reduced to half a vote and the 4x major unions are given back what is due to them the ‘core problem’ will remain – the ‘tail wags the dog’ and the tails proportionally get far to much of the cake from SARU (which is run by amateurs and old boys network). The big unions have been hollowed out by SARU and the little rural unions.

        The rest of your post is the usual……

        • Herman Schroder?

          So how did the money problem affect the Lions ?? Not at all because they had an effective game plan and talent to match with a professional administration and of course a hugely competent coach. You’re deflecting from the real issue here Greg.

          The rest of the post is usual and purely reflects the usual c..p being fed to us by SARU and Co. When that changes the ‘usual’ will change. Cheers.

      • SweetAz

        Change your tune please,-its tedious, boring and missing the point,—as per usual.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Change SARU, change the coach, change the game plan, change the team, change the poor results and I’ll change my tune. Until then the fight for the soul of SA rugby goes on. Why don’t you sign up old chap instead of shooting the messenger. Cheers.

          • Greg Shark

            you’re hardly a ‘messenger’….LOL…

          • SweetAz

            How do you change SARU? Without changing SARU none of the other things are possible. So instead of bitching and moaning and irritating the crap out of everybody for 5 years come up with a plan to change SARU.
            Good luck with that.

  • Alastair Campbell

    Good article! Entirely agree with the sentiments here. It is probably true the team is two years away from being good enough to be contenders for the RWC – but it’s also true that they have played like a band of brothers this year and this has been great to watch.

  • Barry

    A point that seems not to have been touched on in the year end wash up, was the mix of home and way games. We tend to look purely at win percentage but lose perspective on what the likely result should have been based on the home and away mix. The answer is eight away and six home!!

    Ideally one would hope to win home fixtures and say 50% of away fixtures to consider the year successful, remembering that most of the teams we played were competent upper tier! That would make ten and we managed seven! In essence we are three short of where we could ideally have expected to be!

    A point that Erasmus needs to take into his final planning is which of the SR teams travel well and which don’t. For quite simply, we should not make up our World Cup squad from players that are comfortable losing away from home. The World Cup after all is free of home fixtures!

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