JOHANNESBURG – The Brits are known for many things. Perspective isn’t one of them.
Eddie Jones’ England lose a couple of games, and suddenly there’s talk of getting rid of him. The papers, podcasts and the social media snake pit are full of it. “Told ya so” they squawk, blind to his record of 24 wins in 28 Test matches.
Had that been the return of a Springbok coach, we’d have built a monument to him.
Which of course perfectly sets up this winter’s tour of South Africa by England.
A month ago we were deeply anxious at the prospect; world number two, big and strong and ugly and all that. But if a week or two is a long time in politics, it’s practically a lifetime in sport. England were battered by Scotland, France and Ireland, and suddenly talk swings from 0-3 to 3-0 for the Boks.
This conveniently forgets the mountain the Boks must still climb under Johan Erasmus, who is yet to coach a single training session with South Africa.
The damage wrought these past two years won’t easily be undone.
His task, however, will be immeasurably eased if Jones sends a weakened squad to South Africa for the series, a possibility he broached in the aftermath of the Twickenham defeat last weekend.
With an eye on the 2019 World Cup, Jones is said to be loath to send his star players - chiefly the 2017 Lions among them - on a wild mission halfway around the world.
This is a cavalier suggestion because it will diminish the integrity of the series. England tour here so seldom and such events are rightly held up as historic, passionate contests. Anything that takes away from this status will betray the sanctity of what Test rugby ought to be about.
It may be an old-fashioned view in this age of fast food and millennial mindsets, but what’s the point otherwise?
If it’s a valid point that players like Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipolo look knackered, it’s no less true that clubs are also guilty of over-playing their totems.
To pipe up that England’s top players were also involved in the Lions is disingenuous. Last year when England were cleaning up, it was off the back of a three-match series in Australia. And this after winning the Six Nations.
No-one complained then.
Besides, it’s ridiculous to obsess over the World Cup to the exclusion of what occurs in the four years between every edition. Only one team can win the thing. Ergo, 19 lose it.
Far better to prepare for every Test as it comes. This way, World Cup preparation takes care of itself and ought to be a natural extension of any coach’s work.
There will be no talk of soft teams from the Springboks, albeit they are a side in flux with few players guaranteed their positions. Only Malcolm Marx, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi can reasonably expect to waltz in.
Others like Warren Whiteley, Eben Etzebeth, Wilco Louw and Lukhanyo Am are near bankers and if Erasmus has his way, there may be a way back for overseas stalwarts like Duane Vermeulen, Vincent Koch and Willie le Roux, who would all add ballast.
Fortunately, Super Rugby is doing its job and turning up fresh, vibrant new faces.
Might it be too soon to blood exciting Damien Willemse? What about blitsvinnig Aphiwe Dyantyi or Makazole Mapimpi? Cyle Brink, Roelof Smit, RG Snyman and Embrose Papier are all promising new players who have caught the eye.
Their emergence also confirms the remarkable talent that continues to be produced in South Africa, even as top players scamper overseas in their truckloads - 400-odd at last count.
No game can fully absorb such losses, but there’s something deeply satisfying in knowing the system remains defiantly prolific and resilient.
What you lose most with the player drain is experience. All the great Springbok teams post-1994 have been sides stacked with caps; men you can turn to when the heat is turned up.
Even as England deal with their hurt, there is no room for hubris among us. Jones is a smart old cat; cunning and clinical. Far better for the Boks to pay little heed to what’s troubling his lot.
Clinton van der Berg