The Springboks’ form on tour has waxed and waned, but you at least get the idea that there’s a master plan and an end goal.
Sadly, it has come against a backdrop of poor officiating and muddled thinking, factors that have affected almost every recent international.
Forget for the moment that the Springboks controversially lost against England.
Far worse was the match being scheduled outside the international window, which had the effect of the teams having to play patchwork sides.
So much for the primacy of Test rugby.
It was much the same on Saturday against Scotland, with a deal having been thrashed out for Sale Sharks to have the use of Faf de Klerk’s services.
There he was, playing against Saracens rather than Scotland. It’s an anachronism in the modern age, and reflects poorly on a game that only masquerades as professional.
If you accept that players themselves have largely embraced the professional game and its demands – they practically live in the gym and are walking automatons – the same can’t be said of refereeing.
Rugby’s biggest handicap surrounds decision-making, but referees don’t appear to have caught up to this reality.
Almost every weekend we see matches decided on an official’s whims, with “interpretation” of the laws providing leeway as wide as the Grand Canyon.
This explains why there was such schadenfreude after England’s match-winning try against the All Blacks was ruled offside.
There was a hue and cry after the TMO’s ruling, chiefly led by the press corps, but they were happy to allow Owen Farrell to get away scot-free with his illegal hit on André Esterhuizen the week before.
The point is that not only is rugby’s law book too opaque, there’s too much scope for interpretation. Officials don’t reflect the consistency we so readily expect from players.
And so, to the Boks, who are taking shape ahead of the World Cup. Much is encouraging.
There is a surplus of loose forwards and locks, SA can select a powerful, pacy back-three and the team appear to understand the coach’s methods.
The trouble is that there is still much wrong. The team is too loose in attack and possession isn’t treasured.
The cold, hard ruthlessness demonstrated by teams like New Zealand and even England isn’t part of the Boks’ arsenal.
Line-outs, for so long a strength, have become a liability, with communication all over the place.
The breakdown is another shemozzle. The best, most efficient back-row is Pieter-Steph du Toit, Flo Louw and Duane Vermeulen, but four doesn’t go into three – what about captain Siya Kolisi?
These are realities Erasmus must grapple with. SA also hasn’t best made use of its bench, although there were encouraging signs against France.
Louw’s introduction was perfectly timed and Cheslin Kolbe’s impact was instantaneous.
England’s Eddie Jones refers to his bench as “finishers”, which is exactly what they should be.
Rassie Erasmus said: “To beat a team that has become a real force in world rugby, on the up, in the middle of a good home run, is satisfying. We’re definitely not the finished product yet, but we are slowly growing into a better team.” #loverugby #boksontour pic.twitter.com/XojWKrtZwH— South African Rugby (@Springboks) November 18, 2018
With all that’s still wrong, the team has gone reasonably well under Rassie Erasmus. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the team’s weaknesses reflect well on their potential for growth.
How good might they become if the kinks are ironed out, their game sharpened, and the best players identified?
Seven wins in a row are needed to lift the World Cup. Consistency and cunning are required then, and now.
The search for a Bok identity continues. But it is in sight.@ClintonV