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57-0 and why it still means everything

  • By ClintonV
  • October 16, 2017
  • Comments Off on 57-0 and why it still means everything

Given where the Springboks were after the humiliation of Albany, it would be easy to paint last week’s epic performance against the All Blacks as a triumph of sorts. It wasn’t.

It was encouraging, yes, and it demonstrated the Boks’ power and passion. But it demonstrably wasn’t good enough. In the cold light of day it was a defeat and we shouldn’t applaud coming close. That’s the first step to mediocrity right there. A heroic loss doesn’t cut it.

What it did was remind us how savage the Boks can be when the mood takes them. They can be inventive, too, and wonderfully brutal.

But Cape Town wasn’t the match that defined the international season. Albany, where the Boks suffered a record defeat – not the worst; that was surely against Japan in 2015 – is the match that will live longest in the memory.

There have been some lousy days in the long history of the Springboks, chiefly in the past two decades, but few as shattering as the 57-0 belting. Even now, when you run through the team sheets or consider the conditions, it’s difficult to fathom how it occurred. It’s rare indeed that a team turns in a near-perfect performance; rarer still that nothing comes off for the opposition. But that’s what happened.

Many coaches would not have survived the fallout.

Last weekend’s match thus represented a massive turnaround, if not in the result than certainly in the performance.

Consistency, then, remains a maddening element of the current Boks. They perpetually produce their best when their backs are firmly against the wall.

TThey perpetually produce their best when their backs are firmly against the wall

Had they brought Saturday’s attitude and aggression to the Tests against Australia, they would surely have prevailed. They might even have salvaged something in Albany.

Three things stood out last weekend: the effectiveness of the Boks at the collisions, their powerful runs through the middle and their mundane game management, manifested chiefly in wayward kicking.

The Boks must learn to shrewdly mix up their game. Playing it fast and loose against Australia, as they did in Bloemfontein, was rash and brought few dividends beyond a visual feast. On the flipside, bringing a ruthless edge, like last week, has its virtues against an all-round team like the All Blacks. But, as the good scientist, Ross Tucker, says, Bok brutality always masks underlying flaws.

I’ve long banged the drum for Elton Jantjies, but it’s time to concede that he isn’t the real deal at flyhalf. He has his moments, but all the great 10s are generals who dominate and trouble the opposition. The disappointment with Jantjies is that he’s only half-formed as a flyhalf, too often mixing up good play with bad. If the Boks have designs on the 2019 World Cup, best they get Handre Pollard a suit of cotton wool and reinforce his ankles and whatever else gives him trouble.

Our scrumhalf stocks are also dangerously low. Ross Cronje is doing a holding job – he’s adequate and understands what is required – but the Boks have thrived when they’ve had game-breakers like Joost van der Westhuizen, Ricky Januarie and Fourie du Preez.

Too bad the excellent Embrose Papier and Marco Jansen van Vuuren are still raw and untested. Their time will come.

Critical in this team’s evolution is keeping the core together. The kernel of an outstanding group is there if you think of Malcolm Marx, Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jan Serfontein and Jessie Kriel. The back three, though, haven’t exactly been pulling up trees. The sooner Warrick Gelant and Makazole Mapimpi are called up, the better.

The next examination of where the team is at will come in a month’s time when they play Ireland away, followed in quick succession by France, Italy and Wales. The Ireland game could get messy if conditions are lousy and the Boks aren’t switched on. They’ve been down this road and it’s not fun.

Unfortunately, for all the bright spots of the 2017 international season, that 57-0 defeat puts the Boks on the wrong side of the ledger. Only when they beat the All Blacks, now into their eighth year as the world’s best team, will they begin to erase that dreadful black mark. – © Sunday Tribune








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