DURBAN - Many would have felt that the return fixture in Mendoza should have been a mere formality for the Springboks after their dominant performance in Durban just a week before. However, a first half blitz, and a fired up Pumas side, quickly put paid to that notion.
The Boks lost their third ever game to Argentina 32-19 in what can only be described as an embarrassing display. In fact, that was coach Rassie Erasmus’ own words: “It was embarrassing and not the kind of performance you expect to see from the Springboks," he said after the match.
What is especially heart-breaking for fans and the Boks alike is that the shock loss comes off the back of so much optimism about the fortunes of the Springboks being turned around. Now, however, the spotlight is suddenly on, the rose-tinted glasses off, and there are some glaring problems - and similarities.
Allister Coetzee’s tenure started off on a very similar vein in 2016. He won a series against Ireland at home, 2-1, then beat Argentina 30-23 in Nelspruit before losing to Argentina 26-24 in Salta.
The difference, however, is that Coetzee’s tenure was doomed before it had even started with his negotiations for the job not granted, whereas Erasmus has been given everything he needs, so, this means he has to fix things with no excuses permissible.
Under Erasmus, the Boks have not won an away game, and although they have only had two matches on the road - a one-off Test against Wales in the USA, and this latest Mendoza game - it is becoming a bit of a Springbok epidemic.
The Boks have won three out of 15 away Tests since the start of the 2016 season. This is highly concerning for a team that wants to be considered as one of the top three rugby nations on the planet, they cannot simply capitulate when they don’t have everything their way.
Erasmus also made mention that he changed one player from the dominant Durban team and suddenly they were bullied and dictated to. It is nonsensical for that to happen and it must have a lot to do with the mental barriers the Boks have with playing away from home.
The next two Tests are even tougher, with Australia and New Zealand preparing to welcome the Boks to Australasia. The travel is tougher, the tour is longer, and the confidence will have taken a hit. The Boks cannot afford to get homesick for this upcoming tour.
Erasmus has said that he is building up to the World Cup and will be using the Tests leading up to that competition to bolster his squad and blood some young talent. That mandate becomes extremely difficult once a team starts losing.
Erasmus needs to quickly find his best possible team and stick with them. A winning culture needs to come first before throwing in a heap of untested talent. To this end, there are reports that the coach may be putting out an S.O.S call to Duane Vermeulen in Japan.
Erasmus also said: "We were playing better rugby in the second half but we just didn’t make use of our opportunities. I’m not going to look for positives after a performance like that. We have no excuses, we knew exactly what to expect, we prepared for it but didn’t handle it."— South African Rugby (@Springboks) August 26, 2018
Oddly, the Boks, who were too physical to handle in Durban, were bullied in Mendoza. And with the likes of Cyle Brink and Jean-Luc du Preez not available to lead a bruising charge, Vermeulen may need to rush back to be the banner man of physicality for the Boks.
While the Boks’ forward pack is full of grizzled Test veterans, the back division has more flair and excitement than caps. Going forward, there is a scary amount of talent, but for a back division, there needs to be a defensive lynchpin.
Jacques Fourie was always well regarded as being a defensive organiser in the midfield, and that type of player is severely lacking from the Boks’ backline. The way the Pumas poked holes at ease exposed a missing organiser who is experienced enough, and competent enough, to run the defence when things get loose.