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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