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Opinion

What becomes of the broken Bokke on the tour from hell?

Roar Guru
19th September, 2021
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Roar Guru
19th September, 2021
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After arriving in the land Down Under cock-a-hoop and full of the joys of a Lions series victory, the Boks are now officially on a tour from hell.

I am reminded of the Jimmy Ruffin classic, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.

For all intents and purposes the Springboks should be walking the land wondering if their happiness was an illusion, confused and trying to find any kind of peace of mind.

In two games that were meant to be a tune-up for a bigger dance against the All Blacks, the Boks were outplayed by a better coached, better rounded and more highly skilled Australian side.

Things are only going to get worse for them, especially if the South African reaction is anything to go by. Apparently the Wallabies wins can all be put down to the Boks being a shadow of themselves.

This lack of self-awareness is a large part of their problem, as is the over-confidence – some would say arrogance – that seems to tarnish this South African side.

South Africa prepare to take on the Wallabies

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

However, they do have an outsider to blame as well.

It was, after all, Warren Gatland who led a Lions touring party to South Africa that was scared to hold onto the ball. It merely kicked possession back to Willie le Roux and Handre Pollard, much to the frustration of players like Finn Russell, who knew the Lions were blowing the series by doing so.

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Ironically, the Springboks may have been better off not getting in that 240 minutes of preparation against the Lions and flying straight to the Rugby Championship. It would have been less dangerous for player welfare.

It appears that the South African brains trust never anticipated running into a team that simply refused to play along and kick the ball back to them.

Maybe this is partly because South Africa has been so focussed on moving to the northern hemisphere. Did they forget that passing and running are as fundamental to the game as kicking and mauling?

Maybe it’s because Rassie was so distracted by getting his Stephen Spielberg on that he forgot to think beyond August.

Whatever the case, the Boks are now in severe trouble, and it’s very difficult to see how they will get out of a hole they seem intent on digging deeper.

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Jacques Nienaber was asked about his side’s attack but could only say, “From a defensive viewpoint we need to make changes and do things better, you know. I think the last time we conceded four tries was against New Zealand in 2018.”

Not once did the South African coaches appear to recognise that they may have let their players down with one-dimensional game planning and attack, if it can even be called that.

Not once did anyone seem to realise that what worked against Warren Gatland has not worked against Dave Rennie.

The Wallabies have now shown exactly how to beat the Springboks. Kicking only when they needed to, the Wallabies stretched the Boks across the field phase after phase and attacked through Samu Kerevi and Len Ikitau.

Australia also showed that with endless kicking comes endless broken play and attacking opportunity. It is much harder for South Africa to organise their defence if their opponent holds the ball on his own terms after its kicked to him.

Broadly the Bok pack needed to be lung busted, and the Wallabies use of the ball to do the work was smart.

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Rather than stepping ten metres to one side and then ten metres to the other while waiting for a kicking duel to conclude, the South Africans were run ragged, or as ragged as was possible given they tried their best to wander slowly back behind Le Roux each time he called ‘mark’.

Anyone who argues that the Springbok forwards are as mobile as the Wallabies and Kiwis obviously missed the men in green bent at the hip or hands on heads gasping for air throughout even the first half on Saturday.

Lachie Swinton stands over Duane Vermeulen

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

It also seemed as if the South African backs came out at halftime with a plan to speed up the game and spread the ball wider. Whoever gave that team talk forgot to speak about how to run, pass and catch.

Admittedly, it’s very hard to ask players to implement a game plan that’s been missing since 2019 at halftime in a Test, especially when they haven’t been selected as a unit to play expansively and their skills are blunt.

All of this was imminently foreseeable regardless.

There were echoes of 1992 over the past few months. The Boks had been alone with only Warren Gatland for company in the Republic for so long they thought they just needed to show up to win.

Those of us who sounded the alarm and questioned the one-dimensional nature of South Africa’s game plan were branded anti-South African.

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Apparently we simply did not appreciate the power and genius of the world champions. It was about winning, after all, and nothing else. Responsibility to the game – what responsibility?

It did not take a genius to figure out that the Wallabies and All Blacks simply would not play into the Boks hands the way the Lions did.

What should be deeply troubling for South Africa is that the All Blacks won’t require any tutorials from the Wallabies this week. In fact the New Zealanders will implement the winning blueprint better – they’ll be more clinical, they’ll play faster and they’ll most likely humiliate the world champions.

And rugby fans globally are baying for it. They sense blood in the water and are desperate to see the All Blacks deliver more.

Again, the Springboks were only using the Tests against Australia as a tune-up for the show down against the Kiwis. A showdown to put a full stop on 100 years of rivalry before they sidled up to the private equity power brokers in London and joined the Six Nations.

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Winning is everything. We are the world champions.

The reality is that the Boks really aren’t very good right now, and winning against New Zealand ain’t going to happen. It will be four losses on the trot.

What is needed to stop that slide is a little more humility and introspection from South African administrators, coaches, players and supporters.

Is anybody holding their breath?

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