Thursday morning, and time for a sneak preview of Tank’s Sport24 column today – his last of the year!
It was interesting to note the comparison between the Protea’s draw against Australia in Adelaide and the Springbok’s narrow wins over Ireland, Scotland and England in the UK, with the former generally being lauded as a magnificent and gutsy effort, and the latter being deemed merely satisfactory – at best.
While it borders on the impossible to compare a game played over 5 days with one played over 80 minutes, I would agree with the above sentiment. The Proteas (ranked number 1 in the world on 120 points) had been completely out played by the third best side in the world (on 116 points meaning that a series win would see them overtake the Proteas) for 4 days, yet they hung on to share the spoils via individual guts and brilliance.
To my mind, that would be akin to the Boks (ranked 2nd in the world on 86.94 points) being 25 points down at half time against the Wallabies (ranked 3rd in the world on 86.31 points) in Sydney, and coming back to draw the Test. Instead there were less than convincing wins over Ireland (6th on 80.22 points), Scotland (12th on 75.83) and England (5th on 81.07) and Scotland went on to lose to Tonga the week after playing the Boks.
The one similarity, sadly adding venom to my argument in a previous column that we are too conservative as a sporting nation to really boss either code right now, is the slow run rate of the Proteas and the Boks want to play a game where defence keeps other teams from scoring rather than aiming to score tries themselves.
Adding fuel to the fire was Allister Coetzee’s field side comment yesterday, saying that “We won’t change the way we played because we’ve won the SA Conference for a second time” … Suggesting perhaps that the performance benchmark is making the semi finals rather than going for the title.
So after winning all 3 games on tour, giving the Boks a record of: Played 12, won 7, drawn 2 and lost 3 this year … And on 86.94 points, ranked 2nd in the world behind New Zealand, who dominate on 92.91 points, and very marginally ahead of Australia 86.31 points, I would give Heyneke Meyer and his team a pass, perhaps with university acceptance, but with a BIG need to use that time at university to learn and improve if they want to really challenge the All Blacks.
So I do differ with Meyer, who has deemed the year a success given that “Even in some of our best seasons like 2007 (when the Boks won the World Cup) and 2009 (British and Irish Lions series and Tri-Nations wins), we lost more games than we did this year” … But perhaps he is being influenced by the drop in standards from our education department in order for school pass rates to look better?
The last comment I say partly in jest, as while I truly believe that the Boks need to break the shackles of a defensive mindset and embrace a more possession and attack based game plan in order to take aim at the All Blacks and the number 1 ranking, I do agree that Meyer has had it tough this year in terms of player losses, and that 2013 has enormous potential.
Meyer predicts a better 2013 with the return of several injured players like Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Andries Bekker, Heinrich Brüssow, Johan Goosen and Bryan Habana … And he is 100% correct.
But for me the real potential lies in incorporating and getting the best out of players like Jaco Taute, Lwazi Mvovo, Raymond Rhule, Juan de Jongh, Pat Lambie, Francois Hougaard and Siya Kolisi as Meyer looks to build squad depth and moves toward playing some rugby that people actually want to watch.
To my mind, Springbok rugby is at a bit of a Rubicon … We can either carry on looking to compete in the annual sports day, or we can aim to take home the Victor Ludorum. Over to you, Heyneke …