The Springboks’ narrow win in Paris did little to alleviate tactical and personnel concerns ahead of the clashes against Italy and Wales, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The French media didn’t hold back in the wake of the Test at the Stade de France. France coach Guy Novés was hammered at the post-match press conference. Captain Guilhem Guirado spent most of that conference sinking deeper and deeper into his seat and wearing an expression that seemed part guilt and part disgust.
The Springboks copped more than their fair share of abuse, with some even going as far to say that the contest in Paris was so poor that it wasn’t worthy of Test status. For the second time on this tour, the local media stated in no uncertain terms that the Bok No 10 selected by Allister Coetzee wasn’t up to Test standard.
Elton Jantjies was denounced by the Irish after his clanger in Dublin, and then Handre Pollard was slammed by the French for his wayward kicking performance in Paris. Overall, it would appear as if the Springboks as a unit have lost respect in this part of the world.
The Springboks find themselves in a position where progress is all but impossible. It’s like they’re standing in a queue waiting to board a brand new plane that is being perpetually delayed. Service on the old airline, of course, will soon be discontinued.
Coetzee looks set to bow out at the conclusion of this tour. My understanding is that he did indeed clash with his bosses in Dublin and that the hunt is on for a replacement. New director of rugby Rassie Erasmus may even adopt a more hands-on approach in the buildup to the series against England in June 2018.
What is for certain is that the Springboks have lost lineout coach Johann van Graan and defence consultant Brendan Venter in the wake of the Test in Paris. The Springboks beat France this past Saturday, but I’m sure anyone who watched the game will agree that South Africa should be adding to the management team, not waving goodbye to the aforementioned men and then hoping for the best.
Put simply, this group needs all the help it can get.
I’ve heard it said this week that Coetzee is not completely to blame. Members of former Bok squads and management teams have come to his defence and asked what the SA Rugby bosses have done to aid the national team in recent years. They have a point in the sense that the system remains at odds with the growth of the national side.
But is Coetzee the right man for the job? This question was asked in the lead-up to his late appointment in 2016, and indeed in the wake of every monumental loss that has followed.
I’ve also heard it said that the players need to take responsibility. The performance against Ireland was embarrassingly poor. The showing in Paris was little better, but may be overlooked because of the fact that South Africa recorded their first win in six Tests.
I agree that players who can’t be bothered to make an effort, and indeed players who don’t have a burning desire to help this team should be cast aside. But how many record losses and embarrassing performances are to transpire before the powers that be realise good coaching and player management matter?
At what point are the results and performances a reflection of the coaches’ abilities? Surely if they can’t boost the side in some way then they shouldn’t be there.
The Boks could be without captain Eben Etzebeth (injury) when they face Italy on Saturday. They will be without vice-captain Siya Kolisi (due to the birth of his second child) this week in Padua.
They will have two excellent senior statesman in Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw in tow, but will wave goodbye to both next Sunday. Neither will be eligible – due to European club commitments – for the Test against Wales in Cardiff.
In terms of the senior core, there will be disruptions over the next two weeks, and it would be naive to think that this won’t impact on the performances.
Pollard was poor in the recent clash France, but he should be given a further chance against Italy. Jantjies will rejoin his Japanese club next week, and so Curwin Bosch may find himself playing understudy to Pollard in Cardiff.
The Boks lost by one point to the All Blacks last month. Afterwards there was a swell of optimism, a sense that the narrow loss was in some way a win.
The forwards certainly made a statement in that clash. The backline let the side down.
The recent one-point win against France was important in the context of a five-game winless streak, as well as the Boks’ winless record under Coetzee in the northern hemisphere. At the same time, the game in Paris, like the clash in Dublin, showed where the Boks are wanting in terms of strategy and organisation.
Given their losses in personnel, one struggles to see how the Boks will make meaningful strides over the coming weeks. As was the case prior to the tour, an underwhelming two wins from four still seems a likely outcome.
Photo: Dave Winter/IconSport/Getty Imaes