PRETORIA – Many sports stars and teams will often use the old saying about defeat, and learning from it more than you do from victory.
In fact it was a saying made famous by Italian diplomat Count Galeazzo Ciano “victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan” which would be more apt.
And such was the case for the Springboks after their defeat against England in Newlands on Saturday.
It is not to say a series whitewash would not have been welcome, especially against the Poms and Eddie Jones, but I feel it would not have served the Springboks any good.
Instead, what a series whitewash would have done is make the Springboks believe they are better than they actually are, and that kind of thinking is often detrimental to any side with ambitions of being a title contender in the Rugby Championship.
Under Rassie Erasmus, the Springboks needed to lose as a lot of their frailties which had been masked by the euphoria and sentiment of the two Test prior to that would have probably gone unnoticed until the Springboks face Argentina in Durban in August.
Not to say that Erasmus would not have picked up on his team’s weaknesses, but losing the Newlands Test in the wet would have also been an enlightening moment for the players and the fans.
Yes, the Springboks have made huge strides in the last three weeks, particularly in how they managed to bottle up the emotions of the Johannesburg and Bloemfontein Tests - and also not gettinbg overawed after trailing in both games.
It’s been two years since the Springboks showed such heart and endeavour on attack in consecutive Tests, as they did at Ellis Park and in Bloemfontein, and that easily added more mist to the haze of emotions which had engulfed the country with Siya Kolisi’s appointment as captain and Tendai Mtawarira’s 100th Test cap.
But it is in defeat that Erasmus’ side will see in hindsight how thwy might will attain the most growth and be better off for it.
I’m not talking about the kind of losing the Springboks and their fans had to painfully endure under Erasmus’ predecessors in Allister Coetzee and Heyneke Meyer, but the kind where you see you have lost to the better side on the day.
The Boks would have learnt - more importantly - how to vary their game depending on the conditions and sometimes why playing less rugby can yield you more on the scoreboard.
What the Boks should know is that conditions are not always going to be in their favour, as they often are on the Highveld, and it is a team’s ability to adapt more which often ensures their survival at the top.
Saturday would have also been another valuable experience for the players’ memory bank and a reminder - especially to the Test babies - that one needs to put the best foot forward every weekend.
The Springboks will be the first to admit they were far from performing at their optimum on Saturday against the English, and thiswas due to various aspects of their game failing.
At the same time the onus is on every player not to fall victim to a herd mentality when the chips are down, and to find motivation from within to win their own battles and inspire those around them.
For Erasmus, the defeat in the dead-rubber match would have made it much easier for him to confirm who belongs in Test match rugby and who doesn’t.
Unfortunately - as was the case on the scoreboard - there has to be a winner and loser and for some Springbok players Test rugby might prove a bridge too far from now on.
There are individuals who have failed to impress in the first four Tests under Erasmus, while many have revelled under the spotlight of playing rugby at the highest level for the first time.
Fortunately, the Springboks won the series against the English, but it is in the defeats against Wales in Washington and against England at Newlands that Erasmus, his squad and the country will learn the most from.