DURBAN - The doom and gloom is all pervasive in South African rugby after that 57-0 defeat to the All Blacks against a supposedly rejuvenated Springbok side. But here are five remedies for the headache that has set in after the record defeat in the Albany suburb of Auckland.
Keep the faith
The truth is that this time last year a 31-0 deficit at half-time to the All Blacks in New Zealand would have snowballed into something extremely ugly. Let us not even mention 100 points. But it did not. This year the Springboks did not give up. Last year they did, on a few occasions. This is because there is a far better spirit in the Boks this year. We have seen that all year, and the players must draw on this and remind themselves it is not self-delusion that the All Blacks turned in one of their best-ever performances, certainly their best since the 2015 World Cup. All they touched turned to gold. So the Boks should not beat themselves up too much over this defeat because if the All Blacks had played like this against the Lions, it would have been an easy 3-0 whitewash.
Allied to the earlier point, the Boks last year were so unfit they would have been out on their feet come the 60th minute and almost literally rolled over and died. But they conceded less points in the second half than they did in the first. This would not have happened last year. There has been much better preparation and conditioning than there was in 2016. As hard as is it is for the Bok players to deal with 57-0, they should take reassurance they were still tackling right to the death and playing for each other. Allister Coetzee is correct that the All Blacks got away to a 21-0 lead against-the-run-of play after the Boks had been dominating possession and territory. The fact the score was so high was not because the Boks are not unfit, it is because they are not skilled enough. An unfit Bok team would have lost catastrophically after being down 31-0.
This year the Boks have much better depth than they did in 2016. We can now look at the statistics and read that Raymond Rhule and Courtnall Skosaan cannot start another Test for the Spingboks given their weak tackling at the North Harbour Stadium. So let’s change the back three. We have plenty of wings in South Africa than can tackle. Forgive my Sharks bias but I think Kobus van Wyk is the best wing in the country given his physicality in both defence and strength under the high ball, plus his lethal finishing. Sergeal Petersen? A definite possibility. And there are many more. Sbu Nkosi of the Sharks is another, but not this year. Then there is the Lions midfield pair of Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Harold Vorster waiting in the wings (or should that be centres). We have so many more quality players than last year in most positions.
When he came on late in the weekend’s game, he looked like a frightened hare in his first Springbok action since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Who can blame him? But the fact is that he has taken his first baby steps on the road to the heights he reached in that 2015 World Cup where he nearly won the Boks the semi-final against the All Blacks. The Boks are running short on flyhalf depth since the departure of Patrick Lambie, and while there are youngsters bubbling under at Western Province and Curwin Bosch of the Sharks is not far off, they are still too young to be blooded at Test level against the Big Boys. Elton Jantjies in fact was significantly improved from his poor performance against Australia.
The coaching staff
Coetzee has grown from the pain of last year. And he has a more solid support staff. Forwards coach Johan van Graan, a survivor from the Heyneke Meyer era, knows what he is doing and the Bok set-pieces were good in the first half if you look beyond the errant throw-ins of Malcolm Marx. That is beyond the control of Van Graan. The Boks were superb in the set scrums in the first half, although they seemed to lose heart in the second. Van Graan has to make a call on Marx. It is no good him being a Bismarck du Plessis in general play if he cannot find his jumpers in the line-outs. Then there is defence coach Brendan Venter. We know he is a shrewd tactician and a highly intelligent coach. He will be hurting more than anybody in that whole squad after conceding eight tries. He will bounce back in conjunction with the Bok coaching staff , planning how to beat the Wallabies and the All Blacks.