SA rugby team improved, but not enough to lift nation’s spirits
Statistically, 2017 was an improvement for the Springboks – as the previous season was their worst in the professional era – but it was still a long way off being a good season.
Coach Allister Coetzee was given a stay of execution after only four wins in 12 tests last year – and by the end of play this year, when the Boks trudged out of Cardiff after another defeat‚ Coetzee’s bosses were ruing their decision to keep him on.
The Boks won seven of 13 tests this year‚ drawing two and “only” losing four.
But of those four losses‚ two were by such alarming margins and such performances‚ that there was no way to escape the conclusion that the trajectory remains downwards.
Losing 57-0 to the All Blacks in Albany‚ the heaviest defeat in 126 years of Springbok rugby‚ was a low point.
But it was not as bad as the 38-3 loss to Ireland, in Dublin, two months later.
At least during the All Blacks’ debacle one could argue that the world champions had played their best game of the year – and enjoyed moments of good fortune.
It was still an inexcusable result and performance‚ but it occurred against the world’s best team‚ having a great day.
Ireland did not have to even play that well to destroy an inept Springboks, who appeared to be stunned by the home team’s tactic of hoisting up-and-unders.
Scrumhalf Conor Murray and flyhalf Jonny Sexton rained accurate contestable kicks on a Bok back three that had no answer in Dublin.
Ireland gained so much possession and territory through a tactic everyone – from the media to fans‚ but seemingly not the Bok coaching staff – knew was coming, that it was embarrassing.
Then losing 24-22 to Wales at the end of a long season, was as predictable as it was miserable. Wales were missing 14 key players‚ so it was a chastening outcome.
Despite winning the first five tests of the year‚ talk of a Bok resurgence was tempered in the most serious analysis of their season.
Swatting a spineless France aside over three tests in June was hardly an indication of the Boks’ form, but rather of the paucity of the opposition. French rugby is in a terrible state. Two wins over Argentina were again no real measure of whether the Boks had actually improved this year, because the Pumas have fallen off a cliff since making the semifinals of Rugby World Cup 2015.
Two draws against the Wallabies was another below par return for the Boks, because Australia are an ordinary team too.
The Boks snatched a 23-23 draw in Perth‚ and failed to put the Wallabies away at altitude in Bloemfontein – a 27-27 draw was like a loss for the home team.
The Aussies won seven of 14 tests this year and their season was only saved by a 23-18 win over a lethargic New Zealand in a meaningless third Bledisloe Cup match after the Rugby Championship.
Another low was that after losing 25-24 to an understrength All Blacks in Cape Town, after they had already captured the Rugby Championship‚ Coetzee’s tone suggested the Boks had turned a corner.
It could not be called a celebration of defeat‚ but there was an element of satisfaction stemming from the Bok camp.
Which underlined how far standards have fallen – losing at home is considered satisfactory.
“The players are enjoying playing for the Springboks‚” Coetzee said.
The Boks finished third in the Rugby Championship yet again.
That unfounded optimism shown after losing to the All Blacks was quickly shot down when Ireland humbled the Boks a month after Newlands.