Team’s fortunes plummet to second-rate status
South African rugby is in a huge crisis, from top to bottom. Changes are going to have to take place to steer the sport into the future, and it starts with the Springboks. Since readmission to international rugby, the Springboks’ form has been able to mask the many deficiencies that exist in the local game.
Whether it was former SA Rugby president Louis Luyt foolishly taking late president Nelson Mandela to court, or the after-effects of Kamp Staaldraad, if the Boks did well on the field, all other problems faded into the background.
Currently, the provincial game is weak both on and off the field, which is not unprecedented, but through previous lean domestic years the Springboks have always managed to be competitive. Until 2016 that is.
Saturday’s loss against Italy was a new low point. Losing to Japan at last year’s World Cup was a shock, but at the time it was an outlier of a result.
The Boks still rallied to come third at the World Cup after losing a titanic semifinal 20-18 against eventual winners New Zealand.
The defeat against Italy was just another poor result in a season of lows.
A first home loss to Ireland, losing away to Argentina for the first time, a record home loss (57-15) against the All Blacks and losing to England, for the first time in 10 years, are some of the seven losses the Boks have suffered this year.
Of their four wins, not one has been convincing.
Coach Allister Coetzee cut a dejected figure after the match, as if the realisation that the scale of the job he took on does not match his own capabilities had become apparent.
He would not even give a straight answer to the question of whether he would resign.
“My future is out of my hands but this was definitely not Springbok standard,” Coetzee said.
It was a simple “yes” or “no” question. The one thing that is in Coetzee’s hands, is a decision to quit or not. He received the immediate, if not unequivocal, backing from SA Rugby president Mark Alexander after the game, but it was far from a ringing endorsement.
“All of us within South African rugby need to look at ourselves and ask what we could have done differently in aid of the Springbok cause,” Alexander said.
“Those questions will be asked at the end of the season when we will undertake a full review of the year and what new interventions may be needed to turn things around.”
South African rugby’s structural problems are a reality, but they were a reality when Coetzee was appointed in April. At a lower level, not that much has changed.
What has undergone an ugly metamorphosis is the Springboks’ descent from legitimately the world’s third-ranked team to a nation that cannot beat Italy.
The Boks are a tier-two nation now. That is why Coetzee cannot continue.
Expecting him to fix the current problems, mostly of his making at Bok level, is not plausible.