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Rugby: Boks reflect SA Rugby’s ills

Playing for yourself and not as a unit

The gap between New Zealand and SA is now as wide as the Indian Ocean that separates the two countries, and it is widening.

The All Blacks are to world rugby what the colossus Muhammad Ali was to world boxing and the Boks aren’t even George Foreman, Sonny Liston or Joe Frazier. Some would even find it insulting to compare them to British hard man Henry Cooper. They look like Richard Dunn, the last fighter Ali knocked out.

The worst thing about the Springboks’ 41-13 defeat in Christchurch last Saturday was that they gave the All Blacks favours the home side did not require of them. Steve Hansen’s polished brigade do not need the Boks gifting knock-ons in the Boks’ 22m. They don’t need their opponents to fault their lines in defence.

Hansen’s men cleave you to pieces regardless but they will grab the benevolence of your mistakes and turn them into points, as they did to the Boks.

After an initial 19-minute spell of promise, you could sense that things were just too good for Allister Coetzee’s charges. They had to self-sabotage. Right on cue, flyhalf Elton Jantjies dropped a Beauden Barrett kickoff 8m from his own try line during the restart following Bryan Habana’s opening score.

Ask any coach in the world and they’ll tell you that the worst thing a team can do is to concede a minute after scoring a try. You have to make your exits clean to consolidate your break of serve, to borrow from tennis.

From the resulting scrum, the All Blacks scored two phases later through Israel Dagg, whom no one laid a finger on before he crossed the line. The rest is history.

What is also slowly getting banished to memory, despite all the vociferous denials from Down Under, is the rivalry between the Springboks and the All Blacks, mainly because the Boks are so directionless.

The Boks have sucked out all the flavour from one of sport’s most endearing contests — one that used to give purpose to spectators’ lives. It’s gone now. The All Blacks have now won 12 of the last 14 clashes between the two nations, including a World Cup semifinal, since Peter de Villiers’ team won in Hamilton a lifetime ago. They have also won their 13th Rugby Championship (including their haul of 10 Tri-Nations). SA hold just three. Things have become boring, as Dan Carter said in his autobiography. It’s a sexless marriage. The intimacy is forced.

There have now been 92 tests between SA and the old enemy and defeat has been felt 54 times. Losses have been expected like a mother’s breast milk to an infant. The Boks have been the Maria Sharapova end of the rivalry between her and Serena Williams.

Ellis Park, the venue of the All Blacks’ most chilling memory, can’t even protect the Boks. The Kiwis hold a 2-1 win record against them in the last three tests played there. The ambition now is to avoid a record defeat against them at Kings Park. People will flock to the stands only to witness for themselves the out-of-this-world rugby the visitors play and not for the hope of a home team upset.

Coetzee was asked in the week that the Boks faced Argentina in Nelspruit what he thought of the All Blacks demolishing the Wallabies that same weekend. He shrugged it off as if they hadn’t watched the game. Deep down he had the All Blacks in his mind and thoughts. They stalk his subconscious and the nightmares won’t stop until something big is done about the state of SA rugby.