The icy wind that blew through Murrayfield Stadium yesterday afternoon – brigning with it lashings of rain that drowned out any hopes of a Springbok victory – may just prove to be the early pre-cursor to the winds of change that must now, surely, bring new life and new direction to the embattled South African side.
The game is scarecely worth dwelling on – I fear. As you will all know, I watched the drama unfold from my superb spot in the press stand at Murrayfield and while the associated gaggle of Bok-leaning scribes tried in vain to keep the faith, it became only too clear as the match went on that the Grand Slam dream was destined to die in the Edinburgh cold – the brief candle of hope ignited by gutsy wins against Ireland and Wales throroughly doused by a perfect storm of conditions to which the Boks simply had no answer.
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not blaming the conditions for the defeat, although they played their part, along with some typically whimsical refereeing interpretations from the unpredictable Stuart Dickenson. What ultimately spelled doom for the Boks was the way in which they allowed circumstances beyond their control to dominate them and eliminate their focus. In short, they lost their heads and neglected the very cornerstones of their game – that is the basic things that they usually do so well and on which they have been able to grind out victories in the past, despite adverse circumstances.
Victor Matfield and Peter de Villiers both alluded to this in the post-match press conference. Matfield muttered something about how the Boks’ desire to embrace a more expansive game plan on the day may have detracted from getting the basics right – particularly when it came to set pieces and accuracy in execution – and that may well be, but if that was indeed the case, then serious questions have to be asked about the planning, leadership and cohesion of the squad as a whole. How is it possible that a World Champion side, chock-full of 50-test veterans, could go into a game like this quite simply not knowing how they intended to approach the game, or perhaps more importantly, what other strategies they would employ should the weather, referee, or any other factor start to go against them? Planning and preparation, it would appear, are non-existant at the moment, because the Boks quite simply did not have any tools, whatsoever, in yesterday’s arsenal to deal with the conditions they faced at Murrayfield. Conditions, it must be said, which are hardly unusual in this part of the world at the current time of year.
Perhaps that sums it up most for me and makes me most convinced that some fresh blood is needed. It’s not that the Boks lost – hell, any team can lose a game. It’s not that they played poorly, because all teams play poorly once in a while. I’m not even all that worked up about the fact that we lost to a inferior side and made them look so good on the day, although that part was rather galling to say the least. What annoys me the most is that the management team, certainly at the stage that I saw them yesterday, didn’t appear to have any idea whatsoever about what went wrong or what they should do differently next time. De Villiers and Matfield had a standard answer to each question – along the lines of “we don’t know, but we’ll watch the video and do better next week”. I’m sorry, but at this level of the game, if you can’t figure out what’s going wrong without needing to pore over a tape of the match afterwards, then I simply don’t know how you can hope to be successful.
Coping with adversity is as much about preparation and training as it is about mental toughness and adaptability in the heat of battle and based on yesterday’s evidence, the Boks were caught woefully short in all of these areas. Without wanting to single out individual performances on the field (there were many) I feel I can no longer endorse the current management team, either overtly or tacitly. There is such a clear and obvious lack of leadership, direction and clear purpose amongst that group of men that success is never going to be achieved in a sustainable manner under their guidance, regardless of which players are picked, in which combinations, or which strategy (such as there is one) gets employed in a particular match.
There appears to be absolutely no clear consensus on approach and no clear pecking order either and it seems as though it’s a case of whichever party happens to be shouting loudest at the time getting the say. Too many cooks will invariably spoil the broth and when none is prepared to stand up and take on the role of head chef – and live or die by that responsibility – the result is an empty pot and a whole lot of headless chickens running amock in the kitchen, while the cooks try their damndest to beat out the flames.
I’m sorry, Peter, but it’s time for you and your team to make way for some fresh blood ahead of the World Cup. The game has moved on and I don’t see how we can argue that the current set up and approach is moving Bok rugby along at an equivalent pace, this despite the domestic scene being at its strongest in many years. Narrow wins against the flawed Irish and Welsh sides did little but to give us false hope. Perhaps, in time, we’ll look back on the disaster at Murrayfield as the first painful birth pang of a new Bok approach.Tweet