A reporter is not supposed to be a supporter, and I explained this to a Springbok who was upset at something I had written in a New Zealand newspaper during the 1994 tour of that country.
Gavin Rich writes in his Superrugby Column that there are however times when the distinction gets fudged, for while the profession calls for objectivity, we are also patriotic people. I take a constant ribbing from a certain “reporter” who noticed tears in my eyes when the Springboks were celebrating their World Cup triumph in Paris last year. Those who care to go back and read the column I wrote the following morning will probably note that the emotion didn’t just last for few minutes, either.
After being so close to the Bok World Cup win just eight months ago, and after seeing the enormous potential of this experienced team that should now be approaching the zenith of its powers and the peak in its maturation process, it is hard now to hide the frustration at seeing those same players losing matches that they should win.
There seems to be an attitude adrift that somehow it is okay for the Boks to be losing away test matches in Australia and New Zealand, and I even pick up a sense from some of my fellow writers that coming back with five log points is more than should have been hoped for at the start.
But if that is the attitude, then those people clearly never saw the Boks as worthy world champs, and they don’t rate the individual players available to the Boks nearly as highly as I do. These people are also possibly amnesiacs, for almost all of them wrote or said ahead of the tour that this was a great chance to beat New Zealand in New Zealand.
The Boks did achieve that objective, and it was great to see them do it, even if only to shut up those who kept bleating about the Boks winning the World Cup without facing New Zealand. But let’s be realistic about this – when Ali Williams left the field at Carisbrook to join Brad Thorn and Richie McCaw in watching from the sidelines, the All Blacks were down to the bare bones of their previous greatness.
Both Australia and New Zealand gave away a great deal to the South Africans in terms of experience, and yet for stages of the Wellington test and again in Perth it looked like it was the opposition who had built up almost 500 test caps between them. Like the Boks, the Wallabies were playing under a new coach, but they also have a much newer team.
In my view, the Boks should be dominating world rugby, not only now, but for years to come. Given what they have in terms of quality, individual brilliance and experience, this is not a season where we should be hoping that the Boks are competitive in away tests. To live up to their world champion billing, they should be winning those tests. Winning the Tri-Nations should be an expectation, not a hope.
And yet, but for a piece of Ricky Januarie brilliance, or Frans Steyn’s pressurising of Dan Carter when he lined up a late drop-kick in Dunedin, the Boks would have returned to South Africa from the overseas leg with three losses from three starts.
In that Dunedin test the Boks prevailed because they were more controlled than in the other games, they were more conservative, it appeared that the coach had given into the realities of test rugby, and there was greater structure.
When Percy Montgomery was dropped, and the talk from Australia suddenly started focussing on pace and the new buzz-word, “off-the-cuff” rugby, I feared the worst. That was why in my preview to the Perth game I predicted an Australian victory even though in my copy I had listed numerous reasons why the Boks should win.
When has a South African team ever run an Australian team off its feet? And if Luke Watson was worthy of a place on the bench against New Zealand, who selected no specialist opensiders in their squad, why was he ejected for the Australian game, where the opponents had two? And if Joe van Niekerk’s breakdown skills played a role in his selection in New Zealand, surely they were even more important here?
This is not hindsight stuff, the questions were asked before the game, just as questions were asked ahead of the Wellington game about the lack of wet weather selections. Given the confidence jolt that must have come with victory in Dunedin, it also made no sense for the coach to change his team as he did. There were already enough changes brought by injury.
This is all elementary, and it disturbs me, just as it disturbed me when after Wellington the coach suddenly started spotting the mistakes he had made as if they were all new to him, as if the realities of playing in New Zealand were new to him. There does seem to be a trend starting with De Villiers – win well playing conservatively against Wales one week, nearly butcher it by doing the opposite the following week; and the sequence has been repeated in Australasia.
Maybe the coach is going to learn from his mistakes. As a South African, I do hope so. But for my money the Boks have already lost two matches they should have won, and that is frustrating.Tweet