A year that had promised so much comes to a sad end
THE Springboks have played in five Rugby World Cup tournaments – won two; exited after extra time in a semifinal in one and departed at the quarterfinal stage in the other two.
Each of the defeats has been hard to take. In 1999, there was that drop goal by Stephen Larkham at Twickenham to give the Wallabies a passage to the final; in 2003, there was the ignominious defeat against the All Blacks in Melbourne on the back of the ” Staaldraad” indignities and this year there was the nauseating loss to Australia for which Bryce Lawrence became SA’s Public Enemy No1.
Defeat does not sit well in the collective psyche of Springbok rugby and it is my contention that failing in the World Cup in 2011 is going to come to be seen as the worst of South Africa’s three premature departures.
This was a World Cup we could, and I would argue, we should have won. SA should today be basking in the glow of becoming the first side to retain The Webb Ellis Cup and the first to win it three times.
The standard of play in the tournament was poor; there were no sides the Springboks could not have beaten and the eventual winners, the All Blacks, so fortunate to have survived a panic-stricken second half in the final.
In the bitter aftermath there is no point blaming referee Lawrence or clinging to conspiracy theories – the general theme of which is that with the IRB in cahoots, the match official was under instructions to see to it that SA went out because the All Blacks did not want to meet the Springboks.
The Boks failed because the flaws apparent in the two years leading up to the tournament – from coaching, to man management, to style of play, to individual form – were not addressed and the structure failed.
The dominion of the players (confirmed in Victor Matfield’s biography, among other sources) that carried Peter de Villiers to many successes, but which many questioned (in my case, at the risk of being branded unpatriotic or not knowing the big picture) was finally at the core of a golden generation failing.
De Villiers might have been aware that scrumhalf Fourie du Preez was palpably out of form, that his skipper John Smit’s capabilities had waned, that Pierre Spies was not the explosive dynamo he was made out to be, that Morne Steyn’s confidence had taken a knock and Bryan Habana was struggling and the quintet of Francois Hougaard, Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Patrick Lambie and Gio Aplon might have added considerably to the firepower of the side, but he was unable to stand up to the players and make the changes.
When the seventh tournament is put into perspective, the coach, and the clique of senior players who swayed him, got it wrong.
Thus a year that had promised much comes to a sad end. The new Super 15 represented nothing if not overkill and as with the Tri-Nations, SA was at a travel disadvantage. With the split season and the addition of Argentina, this will get worse in 2012 but at least at year-end there was the golden dawn of the Lions, under a Kiwi coach, winning the Currie Cup by playing vibrant rugby.
Hopefully that thought, expansive, innovative, accurate, responsible rugby, will weigh heavily with the gentlemen of Saru as they ponder the big decisions they have to make in the new year.
- Dan Retief will be away for the festive season. His column will resume on January 21.