Now try telling the South African public everything is fine in their rugby garden.
Try, too, suggesting that this Test didn’t matter, that with the series won, it was a dead rubber of no interest to the Springboks. What, with a 118 year record to break ? If the world champions were short on motivation with a unique series whitewash over the Lions within touching distance, they shouldn’t have been out there.
Such talk won’t wash. The fact was, the Springboks were desperately poor, a weak shadow of the side they ought to be. But then, can we be surprised given the fact that the ‘Boks played for only the first 50 minutes in Durban and the last 20 in Pretoria ? Here, they faced a Lions side without probably its five top players yet the South Africans looked second best throughout the game.
No, the fact is, the ludicrous build-up to this Test match with the Springbok coach and not his players again the focus of attention, was a clear and very obvious distraction to the team. Peter de Villiers’ lunatic antics and crazy statements are starting to have a direct effect on the performances of his team on the field.
The world champions were all over the place again, just as they had been for an hour in Pretoria. Sure, they were without eight of their best players but the talent coming through in this country is such that they ought to been able to withstand those absentees and still produce enough to beat a similarly depleted Lions side.
The fact that the Springboks were so outplayed was a dire indictment of what is going on within their camp. Mistakes can always be made by individuals, that is inevitable and excusable. What is not acceptable is a complete lack of structure within a team that calls itself world champions.
Certain players looked only moderately interested, others quickly sized up that, given the general mess and mediocrity, they had little chance of turning the tide. A couple of the youngsters hurriedly brought back into the fray in the second half, Ruan Pienaar (as a scrum half) and Frans Steyn, raged against the dying of the light and the mess around them. But too few others managed much.
In this Lions series, South Africa have looked a shadow of the disciplined, focused, organised side which won the World Cup less than 24 months ago. We have to ask, why that is, what has changed to have so profound an effect. The answer, fairly obviously, is the coach.
De Villiers has too many demons, too many imagined enemies to fight off the field to be able to focus 100% on on the field matters. His Springbok team is proving that, by the alarmingly unpredictable performances they are producing, veering wildly from occasionally outstanding (in the first 50 minutes at Durban until the coach wrecked their rhythm by withdrawing many of his top men) to abject, which was the case yesterday.
To see a South African side so lacking in shape and discipline was a worry with the Tri-Nations so close. De Villiers sought to suggest that inferior performances by certain players unable to make the step up from Super 14 to Test rugby, was the reason the Boks failed yesterday.
Yet how come many of those players looked world class in that Super 14 final only recently ? Can they play or can’t they ? It appears they can, in certain situations. For sure, they never did at Coca Cola Park yesterday.
Heinrich Brussow did his best to make a real impact up front and won some useful turnovers. But the Lions had a greater belief in what they were trying to do, much better organisation in pursuit of it and far more commitment.
Professional players cannot say it didn’t matter, it was an irrelevance. No Test match can fall into that category. So major questions ought to be asked of this South African squad, even though they won this Lions series 2-1.
Performances like this simply won’t do, whatever the circumstances.