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'Bring back that wild waterboy': The Boks are 'sick' and maybe a return to Rassie is the only cure

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Expert
18th September, 2021
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All the signs are apparent. The world champion, Lions-taming, No 1 ranked Springboks, a defensive juggernaut, a team it seemed nobody could score two tries on, and sometimes even one try against a suffocating, scrambling, maniacal defence was unlikely; that team is sick.

The champion is dethroned.

Nobody should call the Boks world champions any more. The cup is in the cabinet. Don’t worry. But there is no doubt the reigning rugby power is New Zealand.

Something is rotten in the state of the Boks. A light has gone out. Joy is gone.

All that is left is Frans Malherbe winning sweaty scrum engagements. He followed up his 10-9 win over Angus Bell with a 10-8 decision over James Slipper.

Also, Handre Pollard bothered to kick a few goals, and there was the occasional lineout steal by one-man band Eben Etzebeth, who is crawling as if on a pilgrimage to the lost rugby gods.

A few seconds of brilliance by Faf de Klerk and Lukhanyo Am gave us a reprise of their Lions try.

There were superb aerial skills by Sbu Nkosi. And lots of motion (if not effective action) by Franco Mostert, who is not Pieter-Steph du Toit and won’t ever be.

The rest was muck. Mire. Dire. Detritus. A shambles. A cluster…

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Trundling a driving maul into touch. Begging for cards. Hands on hips. Matadors waving at Australian bulls. Forgetting where Kerevi is. Strolling. Sour.

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Four tries run in, and it could have been more.

The Wallabies are building something. Yes, they play too many of their Tests (proportionately) against the All Blacks to see it clearly, but Dave Rennie has his players believing, working, emulating his skipper, and finding ways to get better.

A number three ranking seems just. South Africa holding on to second seems unjust.

Jacques Nienaber is not up to this. The second Rassie Erasmus was not around, the sense of urgency vanished. The bitter fight elapsed. Now, we hear echoes of apology from 2017. Excuses. Apathy. No fire.

I have convened a focus group tomorrow with two forever Bok rugby thinkers. One coached a 2019 Bok squad member in high school. Basil. The other is an oracle. Verity.

The questions I will put to them are like this:

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1. How can the players not be as fit now as they were in Japan? A skop-en-jaag (kick and hunt) game plan is premised on superior fitness, speed, and leaping ability. Nkosi and Etzebeth seem the only ones ready to chase all game.

2. How can the coaches think a 6-2 bench makes sense without two legitimate bruiser skilled locks on it?

3. How do we lose Sammy Kerevi on first phase? How is that possible?

4. Is Nienaber in over his head? Can a guy go from physio and defence scheme man … to head coach a world number one? Is that in itself arrogant?

5. Did we lose our minds from too much success?

6. Erasmus got us to the final in two years. Should we let him reprise that trick? Who are we kidding? Nienaber is never seen by these players as the boss, no?

7. Kwagga Smith and Jasper Wiese are not Test animals. Why are we hanging on, hoping they miraculously get bigger or smarter?

8. Without Lood de Jager, PSDT, and RG Snyman, we are not winning gainline collisions. Marvin Orie can catch a lineout ball, but he’s never crashing over Brodie Retallick. So, why are we pretending that’s the game plan? If we lose the gainline to the Wallabies, what will it look like versus the tougher Kiwis?

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9. Why was Cobus Reinach not considered? He seems an antidote to Australia.

10. If we do swing it wide, as we did in the second Test, how are we going to phase deep or even retain the ball if we have a slow lock at flank, and our captain isn’t getting his hands dirty at the ruck?

Marco van Staden is a legitimate fetcher-spoiler. Why wasn’t Siya Kolisi at blindside, with van Staden at open? If Duane Vermeulen isn’t fit, young Dan du Preez is. We needed speed to the breakdown.

11. How can Nienaber survive an 0-4 tour? Where we end up a laughing stock? Doesn’t he have to win one against the All Blacks? Or at least push both to the last minute?

12. Willie le Roux was safe under the high ball. But on attack, twice he spurned breaks on offer, and passed the buck. Is he done? If so, why not Aphelele Fassi or Damian Willemse now? Let them play 10 tests pre-France.

These Boks were insipid, except at scrum and lineout and off the tee, and a few moments of fire.

Nobody even seemed to care enough to fight or chirp or niggle. Somnambulant Boks.

Well done, Wallabies. Well deserved. And it could’ve been worse. You took your foot off the pedal. And still sacked us.

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Maybe the sack needs to include the assistant-head-sorta-maybe-boss.

Bring back that wild waterboy. Clip his clip machine. Gag him off the pitch.

But this leadership is not being followed, or it’s not making sense to the players, or it’s stale.

I’ll quiz Basil the old school Cape coach and Verity the veritable soothsayer. Stay tuned.

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