JOHANNESBURG - We've all seen the adverts on TV with Warren Whiteley speaking about the rebirth of the Springboks, we’ve heard about the pre-season camp at Plettenberg Bay and how the Boks got to know each other and re-established their culture, and we’ve witnessed wins against France and Argentina.
We’ve been told the Boks are a tighter group than last year, that they celebrate little victories in matches and celebrate each other’s successes on the field. Also, the coaching staff are a happy bunch, and things are moving in the right direction for the Boks in 2017.
Well, 57-0 changes all that.
Everything mentioned above might be true of Allister Coetzee’s team this year, but the defeat in Albany has changed everything about the 2017 season. And no matter how much sugar-coating and talking is done by anyone involved, nothing will change that.
And that is why the Bok dare not lose to the Wallabies in Bloemfontein this weekend. It is a make or break game for Coetzee and his Boks. But it is actually more than that ... the hard truth is the Boks need to play well, win well, be dominant and show their last outing was a one-off horror show.
If the 2017 season is to be saved then the Boks have simply got to finish the Rugby Championship in style. It’s one thing winning against a weak France team and beating Argentina, and quite another facing Australia and New Zealand - we’ve seen that now. The Boks simply have to measure themselves against teams far better than France and Argentina and so far they have registered a draw and a heavy defeat. It’s not good enough ... even if there were good signs against France and Argentina.
But, the draw and defeat came away from home, so let’s be kind and accept it’s never easy on the road. Now at home, there are no excuses.
Coetzee is right when he says his team should be defined by how they respond to the 57-0 defeat rather than that result itself. It wouldn’t be out of place to suggest then the next two weeks are the biggest in Coetzee’s career ... and for several Bok players, too.
The Boks will always be expected to beat the Wallabies in South Africa and after drawing in Perth a few weeks ago nothing other than a win will be acceptable. It’s time for this Bok team, who have seemingly turned the corner, to show they can out-think and out-play a team who are stronger than France and Argentina, on home soil.
The All Blacks next week will pose an altogether different test, but if the Boks are to have any chance of winning that game - or just coming out of it with heads held high and reputations intact - then going into it with confidence and belief will be crucial. That’s why performing strongly - and winning - this Saturday is so important.
The Boks have it all to do, all of a sudden. That’s what happens when you lose 57-0. It might only be one defeat - the only one so far in 2017 - but, boy, it’s a result that will now influence the way the team play this weekend and next week ... and could, in the end, be the deciding factor in the future of Coetzee as Bok coach.