A bus trip from Edinburgh to London after a heavy night is a tough thing to undertake, and it becomes tougher when you hear the people you are sharing the space with talking about you.
“That was complete rubbish that we watched yesterday. It was like an under-10 match. The Boks were hopeless. But what I couldn’t believe was that I went onto SuperSport Zone last night and the guys there were praising the Boks. They clearly didn’t watch the same match I did.”
They didn’t know who I was and I didn’t feel like a conversation. It was tempting though to shout out “Oi, I don’t know what part of SuperSport you looked at, but I thought I was critical enough. And while I wouldn’t like to see a 10-year-old take the hits some of the Boks took yesterday, I agree with everything else you say about their performance.”
Gavin Rich writes on SuperRugby that maybe what they had seen was the story on the post-match press conference, when the players and management have their say. As captain of the team, John Smit does have to put a positive spin on things. What more could he say than that the victory made it two out of two on tour and that was what the Boks were looking for.
But I must admit that when Smit and his coach spoke about the resolution of the players and how proud they were of them for putting their bodies on the line I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t really the Springboks that I had seen play the Murrayfield game.
If a team such as Romania had played like the Boks did in Edinburgh and beaten the Scots, they would have had every right to be immensely proud of the way the game went. The Springboks are not Romania. They should not be going to Murrayfield to just win, particularly on a tour which should be all about regaining the pride that was lost in a southern hemisphere season where at times it was as if they were using a 12-bore shot-gun to blow apart their own feet.
And it should not happen in a match where you have chosen your strongest available combination, so ignoring the fringe players in what was sold to us in a press conference last week as a quest to take the performance to the next level.
Fourie du Preez’s absence did have a massive impact on the Boks at the weekend as it left Ruan Pienaar without the mentoring influence he had drawn off the previous week. But then it is the fault of the selectors that there was no experienced flyhalf present to step into the breach. Ditto for the front-row, where Brian Mujati continues to struggle at this level. That the Boks would struggle in the scrums if Smit had to move back to hooker was something many could have pointed out to the Bok coach before this trip.
In face of the anger I encountered from bemused Bok fans in Edinburgh on Saturday night, I cannot agree with those who make excuses on the basis that “We have come on end of year tours before and lost”.
That is not comparing apples with apples. The 2004 Ireland team that the Springboks lost to in Dublin were the reigning Six Nations champions, the Bok team that lost to Scotland in Edinburgh in 2002 was one of the most poorly selected starting line-ups in the history of South African rugby. The team that conceded 50 at Twickenham the following week was also a patch-work combination that was reduced to 14 men after 10 minutes.
The bulk of the combinations in this team played together at last year’s World Cup, the squad that has toured was not ravaged by injury before departure like previous Bok touring squads were. Scotland raised their game, but compared to the South Africans, they were a no-name brand.
Considering how close the scores were this week and last, it was tempting to wonder if maybe I got it wrong when I predicted that the South Africans should expect to win every game convincingly. But that thought died when I learned that Australia had just beaten England 28-14, and then later watched New Zealand coast to an easy 22-3 win over Ireland.
As world champions and a nation that should aspire to be the best, it is the other southern hemisphere teams we should be measuring ourselves against. When last did Scotland come so close against a southern giant? Last week a second string All Black team that had not played together before beat those same Scots by 30 points.
Those results put it all in perspective. There is so much talk at the moment about the British Lions tour and the need to beat them, but the last time the Lions played, they were comprehensively smashed 3-0 by the All Blacks. South Africa should not be worrying about the Lions, but working towards staying apace with their southern rivals.
And if that is the quest, then two narrow wins over Scotland and Wales aren’t good enough. We are not Romania and there is way too much natural talent in this Bok squad for supporters and other stake-holders to be content with mediocrity.Tweet