Dane Coles trying to wrestles out of the grip of the Springbok players during the Rugby Championship match. Photo: John Cowpland/www.Photosport.nz

They write songs about days as dark as this. 49-0 against Australia. The 53-3 drubbing at Twickenham. That unspeakable day against Japan in late 2015.

We’ve been down this road before but have never appeared as hapless and out of depth as the Springboks did on September 16, 2017, in Albany of all places.

The 57-0 score-line tells its own harrowing tale; a testament to a brilliant team meeting a bumbling bunch and ruthlessly exposing every shortcoming.

Quite what positives Allister Coetzee garnered from the 80 minutes he watched only he knows. The rest of South Africa watched a horror movie, a bloody sequel to the rom-com from Perth last week.

We should have learnt from there that the Springboks had been flattered by France, enabled by Argentina. Too many of our so-called big men go missing in the biggest moments, against the biggest players.

Eben Etzebeth will now know what the term “Test captain” means as he was severely tested by Kieran Read and Co.

His patience would have been tested by his own men, too. The whole team’s performance - and that of the management - was a shambles and though it is unfair to pick on a few, their very positions dictate that they are more open to introspection than most.

Elton Jantjies set the miserable tone with his 40m sand-wedge that landed short of the poles. In the bigger scheme of things, three points would have mattered sweet bugger-all to the outcome, but he started the trend of not finishing off chances created. No international kicker cannot breach 40 metres and the jury must still be out on Jantjies when it comes to the biggest of stages.

Those deluded enough to start hyping the Boks’ No 2 as the next big thing were given food for thought. Before the bullocking runs and “extra loosie” heroics, a Test hooker must find his jumpers but Malcolm missed his Marx routinely yesterday.

Behind him, Francois Hougaard illustrated that a Test halfback cannot be manufactured. As Aaron Smith showed, they are simply born, complete with vision, speed and weight of pass, and an unflinching ability to deliver on the basics.

There were lessons all over the park for the Boks and SA rugby as a whole. Some of those can be taken on board. Others, like the outrageous skills of someone like Beauden Barrett, can only be admired. On his day you cannot live with him. It’s as simple as that.

For all their attacking prowess, however, New Zealand were prouder of the “0” than of the 57. You got the sense they could have tackled all night, such was their relish on defence. That can be taught and that is where South Africa must start.

A hallmark of the best teams in world rugby is a defence that takes serious stretching before it gives way. Look at England. Look at Ireland. Look at New Zealand.

The Springboks used to be stingy and just as proud, too. Where are those men, those punishers of anything with a ball in hand?

They need to take the likes of Raymond Rhule aside and remind him that enthusiasm alone doesn’t bring a man down. There is a technique, which is part of a system, and one that the whole team must buy into. At the moment, the defence is at sixes and sevens, which is why they are collecting 57 shades of grim on the scoreboard.

We are two years away from the next World Cup but the Boks seem even further away from troubling anyone of substance in Japan. Yet somehow, Coetzee still sees positives from nights as dark as yesterday in Albany.

What’s that song again? Ah, yes.

“The blind leading the bland.”

Or something like that


Sunday Independent

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