Matt Moulds of the Blues scores a try in last week's match against the Bulls. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung /
JOHANNESBURG - Did you ever get really embarrassed? It’s a dreadful feeling, isn’t it? If you’re wronged or hurt, you can get angry - and even. If you’re on top, you can celebrate and be modest and magnanimous. If you lose, you can be gracious.

However, embarrassment is different because there’s nothing much you can do except try and find a hole into which you can crawl.

I remember playing a shocking game of rugby in a Springbok jersey on the dreadful internal tour that replaced the cancelled All Blacks tour here back in 1985. It was a hastily arranged series of matches as the tour was cancelled at the last minute. The Bok players did not want to play as we were still devastated at the loss of the main tour.

The fans were up for the Barbarians against whom we played. They, of course, played like men possessed to prove to the Bok selectors that they should have been wearing green.

I had a real shocker, the worst game of my life, the low point of which was when Gert Smal, our No8, stood on the ball at the back of the scrum as I endeavoured to dive pass it to Naas Botha. The result was a magnificently athletic dive in front of the main stand, with the ball left behind under Gert’s foot. To add insult to injury, he then released it as I lay prone on the ground, and opposition scrumhalf Francois Bonthuys accepted the gift and set off on a break.

It was Keystone Cop stuff and I was the chief inspector. The Newlands crowd started to laugh and I just wanted to disappear. Even the distant memory of that moment causes a blush to appear.

I was similarly embarrassed last week watching the Bulls play against the Blues in Albany. Did you watch it? Am I exaggerating? It was hard to believe that the visitors were wearing the same emblem on their jerseys as did those famous Super Rugby heroes from days gone by.

Remember that famous final victory at Loftus in 2009 against the Chiefs? That classic was played on the same day as the British and Irish Lions opened their tour here in Rustenburg. The Lions players watched the final on TV after their game and were incredulous at the fitness, skill and athleticism of the Bulls. Many of them said it was one of the finest performances they had seen.

Last week in New Zealand, the first half was even and the second half was even worse for the Bulls! The Pretoria side somehow managed to turn at 7-7 but in the second half they were destroyed and lost 38-14.

That score flatters them but it wasn’t the score that was embarrassing; it was the chasm-like gulf in skill levels between the sides. The Blues attacked with purpose and a total belief in an expansive game. The Bulls were hardly capable of stringing three phases or even three passes together.

Yes, it is a long trip, and yes, we know SA rugby is in a dip, but this was truly dreadful.

To make it worse, I watched the Highlanders demolish the Rebels on Friday. We know the Highlanders are a good side but again it was the contrast - not with their opponents, but compared to the Bulls last week - that made me flush.

So many bit-part Kiwi players exhibit skill and ability that even our top players cannot approach. Ben Smith wasn’t even playing but it didn’t matter. Matt Feddes, Richard Buckman, Marty Banks, Gareth Evans and Liam Coltman all looked like they would waltz into the current Springbok side and yet they are considered mere journeymen in New Zealand.

Then, right at the end, an unknown hooker called Greg Pleasants-Tate (I kid you not, that’s his name) comes on and almost with his first touch, smashes through the defence, hands off a Rebel and scores in the corner. He looked like Dane Coles Mark II.

How did we go from ruling the rugby world in 2009 to where we are today? More importantly, what are we doing to close the gap on New Zealand, who seem to have a system, from tots to All Blacks, that encourages and produces excellence?

Just like the political leadership in this country, it has gone beyond a joke and it is truly and deeply embarrassing. Will no one help the widow’s son?

John Robbie is a former British Lions, Ireland and Transvaal scrumhalf

Saturday Star