Springboks react after their 57-0 loss to the All Blacks in Albany on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
The jokes must hurt. The samoosa, the amazing age calculation, the pile of cardboard boxes? We all had a good laugh, didn’t we?

I liked the announcement that the Springboks have had their contracts cancelled and are all to play in the French Club Championship. Apparently SA Rugby has realised that all our players like Toulouse!

It all goes with the territory of representing a proud sporting nation and the players must take the rough with the smooth. However, when wearing that jersey is not enjoyable, then something is seriously wrong.

It’s a pity Allister Coetzee is such a nice guy. If he wasn’t, we could all just scream for his head. Mind you, most are and maybe they have a point. Two years in which to show we are closing the gap against the best in the world and he has given us another record defeat.

Sword-falling must still be an option after that. I wonder, did he offer?

One thing troubles me. It is an Inconvenient Truth. There was no lack of effort on the part of the Boks. Think about it. Even poor Raymond Rhule threw himself into those tackles repeatedly. Technique and timing could be questioned, yes, but not commitment.

Equally, Francois Hougaard was never seen to be slacking. Look at the superhuman effort he made to stop that try after the wonderful foot pass by Beauden Barret. At that stage he could be forgiven for not giving his all, but he did. It just wasn’t good enough.

Had we been lacking in effort, then the whole side should hang its collective head in shame. We could then simply scream for more effort on the field and move on. The fact that we were destroyed while trying hard in a way makes it even more serious.

The need for cool heads and deep analysis is paramount.

We know that for decades we have fallen behind in the skills department. Winning the World Cup with a cautious approach in 2007 made us complacent. 

We desperately need skills development at all levels, including the coaching of our coaches, and we need New Zealanders to do it. The fruits of this will take a while to mature, but they will come.

That outrageous scoring back flip by Barrett to Milner-Skudder was received as almost expected by the Kiwis. For them, it was not out of the ordinary. That is the level of skill and confidence they have achieved, and such magnificence is demonstrated at all levels, including Tests.

Have we a comprehensive plan? Let’s see it.

In the short term, we must ask why players from the only team to approach the required skills standard, the Lions, fail to spark at Test level? 

Coetzee, Skosan, Jantjies, Marx, Dreyer and Mostert looked pale shadows of the players who for the last two years have made even top New Zealand sides sometimes look ordinary. Why is this? 

What do the Boks do differently and why is their confidence suddenly lacking? I believe the injury to skipper Warren Whiteley is crucial.

Have you noticed how every time Allister Coetzee talks about expansive attack, he immediately cautions about field position and prudence? It is as though he cannot fully commit to the Lions’ attacking philosophy, and this must be felt by their real players.

The All Blacks play the field in front of them and use their brains if it is not on. Why do we have to shackle the players who have repeatedly done the same for the Lions? Maybe the loss of Whiteley has tipped the balance and as a result, confusion and lack of real confidence to attack has ensued.

We should be bringing the rest up to Lions standards rather than hampering the Joburgers and dragging them backwards.

I repeat what was written last week. Why has Courtnall Skosan, the fastest attacker we have, received but one real attacking pass in his Test career so far? Is he to be the next wasted Brent Russell?

We must look to young players and coaches and get them up to speed with what is needed if we care about getting back to the top. That is non-negotiable. That is medium to long term.

In the short term, we need to build on the achievement of the only team that has delivered. Give the players their heads, buy into their strategy and really commit. No lip service, please. 

Bring the rest to their boiling point and we will see an unbelievable change in the Springboks. 

We might not beat the All Blacks yet, but we will rediscover our enjoyment of both watching and playing, and we will start to close the skills gap at the top.

Instead of retreating into boring, conservative rugby, let us be bold. Please.

* Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf.


Saturday Star

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