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Rugby | Springboks

So what did Bok fans expect?



The Springbok management would have arrived back in South Africa on Sunday night pleased that the away leg of the Castle Tri-Nations is now behind them and with a lot to mull over as the real build-up to the World Cup starts with home matches in Durban and Port Elizabeth.

Once the decision to keep the key players in the anticipated World Cup squad at home to be rehabilitated after a long Super Rugby season and to work on strategy and aspects of conditioning under the watch of technical adviser Rassie Erasmus had been taken, the tour was always going to be one to just get through.

As in 2007, when Jake White made the same decision and took a side equally lacking in international experience on the away leg, the results became less significant. His team lost to Australia and New Zealand by similar scores to the ones that this team lost by, but there arguably wasn’t the same backlash from the public that there has been to the most recent trip.

Perhaps it is because this squad went overseas with heightened expectations, some would say unrealistic expectations, that this has been so. White's team in 2007 had already been outplayed at home by the All Blacks when they departed, so there was greater acceptance that the Tri-Nations should effectively be sacrificed.

But while it is true that, as Bok coach Peter de Villiers says, some of the form players from the Super Rugby season were in the group that toured, a close look at the team that lost 40-7 to the All Blacks shows this not to be the case.

Morne Steyn was definitely not one of the form players in Super Rugby, and he definitely never played fullback, which was where he lined up in Wellington. Bjorn Basson was the top South African winger in terms of try-scoring, but JP Pietersen, left at home, was the top local wing by some distance. The other wing on this tour, Lwazi Mvovo, did show good form in Super Rugby, but when Odwa Ndungane was fit, Mvovo wasn’t always first choice for the Sharks.

Neither was Adi Jacobs, who showed some good touches on attack but was run over by his opponents too often for comfort this past weekend. And neither for that matter was Juan de Jongh a first choice at the Stormers -- he played most of the season off the bench.

Patrick Lambie was a form player and he showed it when he got opportunities on this tour. Ruan Pienaar did not even play in Super Rugby, he plays his rugby these days in Ireland, and frankly his form on this trip suggests his switch of hemisphere has not been good for him.

Danie Rossouw tried hard at No 8 against the All Blacks but he plays No 8 like a lock, and can only really shine from the back of the scrum when he has players like Schalk Burger and Juan Smith with him. He was not a regular starter at the Bulls. Deon Stegmann was a long way from being one of the best loose-forwards in Super Rugby, while Jean Deysel, one of the better Bok players this past Saturday, is only really just coming back from a long injury layoff and has not played much.

Much was spoken of Gerhard Mostert before the Wellington game and considering he had to fly out from France to do so, he delivered on the promise. But he hardly played Super Rugby for the Sharks, so how do you say he was a form player? And ditto his lock partner Alistair Hargreaves. The Sharks lineout was one of their weak points this past season.

Admittedly Flip van der Merwe was first choice front lock at the start of the tour, but how many games did he start for the Bulls in Super Rugby?

Then we go to the front row. The national captain, John Smit, played a lot better in the second match and vindicated De Villiers’s assertion that he just needs match practice. But he is not ahead of Bismarck du Plessis at the Sharks and neither should he be. The young Bulls props improved as the Super Rugby season progressed, but they hardly produced showings in that competition to suggest they were the form players in their positions.

So in reality what sort of squad did De Villiers take overseas? As you can see from the above, they were hardly the form players in Super Rugby. It was a second string group, and in some cases you could say third string, so it is hardly surprising they lost like they did.

De Villiers, in his stint as Bok coach, has never achieved any kind of success when the core of experienced senior players have not been in the team. Remember how the Boks got thumped when they made 10 changes for the last test match against the British and Irish Lions in 2009? And how poor any form of dirt-tracker team has been in midweek tour matches under De Villiers’s watch.

It was because the Bok coaches are so inexperienced for this level of rugby that the South African Rugby Union worked so hard to get De Villiers to accept help, which has come in the form of Erasmus. The Stormers mentor’s influence hasn’t been felt yet because he has been in Rustenburg.

The time to judge what sort of influence Erasmus will have will come during the coming weeks, when the Boks will move back towards a more full strength configuration for the home matches.

In the meantime we don’t really know anything we didn’t know already -- a second string Bok side is never going to be able to live with full-strength Wallaby and All Black teams away from home, and in the De Villiers era as coach the Victor Matfields and Fourie du Preezs and the systems brought in by the previous coach are crucial to any chances of Bok success.

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