JOHANNESBURG – The only thing surprising about the result in Mendoza on Saturday is that so many people were surprised by it.
Why should the Springboks have gone there and expected to win? Why did the majority of fans think the Boks would go there and win?
The Jaguares (the Pumas in another guise in another competition) have had the edge over South Africans in recent years in Argentina, so why not also the national team?
This year alone they beat the Lions, the Bulls, the Sharks and the Stormers at home ... so why should the Pumas not beat the Springboks?
In week one of the Rugby Championship, the Boks got by thanks to home comforts and the Pumas still possibly getting used to life under new coach Mario Ledesma.
It is worrying that South African teams – in Super Rugby and the Boks – are now finding it so hard to win away from home. They look almost a different team, unable to adapt to different fields and environments. And this does not bode well for the Boks.
The national rugby team are now ranked seventh in the world. Now, I have never been one to worry too much about ranking positions because they matter little if you win more often that you lose and you put up a good effort. But, really ... are the Boks only the seventh best team in the world?
How the mighty have fallen.
There was a time when South African rugby was considered the strongest and toughest in the world game, but not anymore.
The drop in the rankings position, the result from this last weekend and the fact new coach Rassie Erasmus is now three wins from six matches in his tenure as national boss made me think long and hard about our state of rugby. And, the only conclusion I can come to is that we – the fans, administrators and possibly even the media – are simply expecting too much.
It is time we accepted that Springbok rugby is not what it once was. We are no longer the trend-setters, the best in the game, the most physical, and the smartest. It is just the way it is.
There were some who were so optimistic after the June Tests – why, after the Boks had won two from four? – That they were hailing Erasmus’ short time in charge a “revival” and a “revolution”. Where? Why? How?
These are words and catch-phrases that should only be considered after a full season ... and right now it’s not looking like we’ll be talking about any “revival” this year. The so-called “easier” part of the Rugby Championship is done and dusted and the Boks are one from two. Australia and New Zealand lie ahead, and there’s little doubt those are tougher assignments.
Is it too soon to be writing off the Boks, and Erasmus? Of course it is. They have as good a chance as any one of a number of teams to win the World Cup next year, and in time be the world leaders. But it’s going to take time and will require patience – from everyone outside the team environment – and that’s something that a national coach never gets.
Erasmus – for all the good he has done, by selecting certain individuals, making Siya Kolisi captain, holding alignment sessions, and so on and so on - is all of a sudden feeling the heat, like all those who’ve gone before him. Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the Bok boss says, or does, or who he picks and leaves out, only one thing matters: winning. In international sport it’s all that’s ever mattered.
And the Boks (and Super Rugby teams) need to start winning consistently, home and away, and not before then should we ever simply expect them to win regularly – no matter the opposition.