As satisfying as it is to thump the Wallabies by 45 points the reality for the Springboks is that they have again finished last in the tournament – for the eighth time in the 13 years of Tri-Nations rugby.
Dan Retief writes in his SuperRugby column that this year’s competition still has the decider to go – between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Brisbane on September 13 – but the outcome of that match will not alter desultory results over the years or the fact that the Springboks will be bottom of the log for the third year running.
The Boks have now played 56 Tri-Nations tests against their two great rivals from their half of the globe; winning 21, losing 34 and drawing 1 – an abysmal 37.5% win record.
Only once since the tournament was launched in 1996 have the Boks got home with a 100% record – in 1998 when, under Nick Mallett, they won all four their matches.
In their other victory, under Jake White in 2004, they edged in on a single bonus point after the three teams each won two matches – ironically their home games.
It begs the question whether participation in the Tri-Nations is good for South African rugby or whether the odds, just as in the Super 14, are stacked too high against the Boks?
It certainly seems to be a problem occupying the mind of SA Rugby president Regan Hoskins.
A studious and thoughtful man, Hoskins may have been thinking a little louder than he intended when he addressed the Press after the quarterly summit of the SA Rugby Union President’s Council – a meeting where it was decided to bid for one of the next two World Cup tournaments in 2015 and 2019 – but he revealed concern about the Springboks’ future in the Tri-Nations.
“The Tri-Nations stats are shocking,” Hoskins remarked candidly, “and it’s most disturbing to us,” he admitted. “It’s of huge concern that our participation in such a huge and elaborate competition such as this, when the playing field is not level, when the psychology (of the event) is against us, when it brings about so much negativity, might be counter-productive. You have to ask: is this good for SA Rugby?
“Our participation in the Super 14 and Tri-Nations has been damaging. Except for the two we’ve won it’s been really bleak,” added Hoskins in alluding to a sub-text which has long been present in SANZAR discussions – is it not time for South Africa to think seriously about joining northern hemisphere competitions to eliminate the key handicaps of jet lag and longer tours?
Granted, the SA Rugby president was speaking before the 53-8 win over the Aussies but I got the feeling he was surreptitiously putting on the agenda the question of South Africa leaving SANZAR – especially in view of recent assertions in the three islands (one big, two small) suggesting new competitions which would not include us.
It might be no more than Hoskins sending, with discussions on the next broadcast contract getting underway, his Australian and New Zealand counterparts a gentle reminder that South Africa has other options and there certainly is no harm in pursuing them.
And talking of pursuing something. The last time the Springboks beat the Wallabies by a record score it was the catalyst for a run of 17 straight victories in a purple patch that last for more than a year.
That was in 1997 when they ran up a 61-22 scoreline at Loftus in what turned out to be Carel du Plessis’s last test in charge.
There were contentions that the performance in this match was the result of Du Plessis’s new way (he also talked of getting the Boks to play a more dynamic game) starting to work, but it emerged from dialogue with the players that what had changed things was a return to the structures and systems which had worked for them under Andre Markgraaff (who had Du Plessis and Nick Mallett as his assistants).
And therein lie lessons for Messrs Pieter de Villiers, Dick Muir and Gary Gold to absorb. Unlike Du Plessis they will not be fired, but they will have to make an honest assessment of the real reasons for the turnaround against the Wallabies and maintain the methods that provided this new momentum.
With the Lions as the next big challenge this is a time for realism and not idealism. What the coaches settle on will dictate whether the Springboks next year can avenge the still painful series loss against the Lions in ’97.Tweet