The biggest problem with being the sort of journalist that can only write negative things is that you tend to find yourself scrambling for excuses and tenuous explanations when you get it wrong. Today, I’m really pleased to not be in that situation.
I see that the usual practice of giving the players credit for a win (whereas defeats are always blamed on the coach) is once again in full swing this morning. The latest theory, which has been grabbed with open arms by the poison-pen brigade, is that John Smit’s pre-game team talk was the reason the Boks won so well on Saturday. In spite of the poor coaching, Smit was able to bring the best out of the players. It’s tired and it’s predictable.
Don’t expect the glory to last long, Smitty, because the knives will be out for you just as soon as a hooker or tighthead from either the Stormers or the Bulls manages to string together 2 or 3 decent games in next year’s Super 14.
I prefer to look at this as a year of progress, a year where we finally managed to beat New Zealand on home soil (and at Carisbrook, nogal!) for the first time in 20 years. A year where we absolutely walloped the Aussies at Ellis Park and the Poms at HQ playing a scintillating brand of rugby that resulted in try upon try. I like to look at the emergence of Adi Jacobs, Beast Mtawarira and JP Pietersen as international players of genuine pedigree, as role models for a new generation of South African rugby fans.
Sure, there have been embarrassing losses and stupid things said to the media. Every single coach in our recent history has been through that and made those same mistakes. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but those who line themselves up to crucify de Villiers are exactly the same crowd who had the knives out for Jake White in 2006. Anyone remember what White achieved in 2007? Good thing we didn’t chuck him after the 49-0 loss to the Aussies in 2006, huh? Anyone remember his famous statement about how many Irishmen he’d pick in his Bok team? Astute media man that he was…
So I’m going to go out on a limb here and give Peter de Villiers credit for what he has achieved in 2008, because nobody else is likely to. Taking over from White was always going to be a tricky thing to do, because let’s face it, a form slump after winning the World Cup is virtually inevitable. Add to that the murky waters caused by umpteen ELV variations applied at different stages of the season. Add to that the loss of his captain and also first-choice enforcer Bakkies Botha for most of the Tri-Nations and the lack of form last year’s match winner, Bryan Habana. Add the pressure of a rabid media corps, determined to drive home the point that they believed Heyneke Meyer would have been a better choice. Add the slew of point-scoring negative quotes from both Jake White and failed international head coach, motor-mouth Eddie Jones at every turn. No, I think Div has done very well, considering what he was up against in 2008.
I wouldn’t say he has necessarily emerged with flying colours, but there has been enough good to suggest that the Boks are a healthy franchise heading into a 2009 season which appears even more fraught with peril for the coach than the one he has just negotiated.
Well done, Peter de Villiers. Enjoy the rest and we’ll see you again in 2009. Show us that you’ve learned the lessons from 2008. That’s all I ask of you.Tweet