what now for Boks World Cup 2015 wrap up

It seems a life time ago that South Africa’s rugby world came crashing down at the Brighton Community Stadium to a chorus of ‘Nippon! Nippon!”

It was September 19 and as the captain of the day, Victor Matfield, said straight after the most famous upset in world rugby history: “We have to either take shape or go pear-shaped . It is up to us.”

From hitting the ground at the tournament with a running splat, the Boks recovered to lose by just two points to the All Blacks in the semi-final or, in the words of Heyneke Meyer: “a penalty or drop goal away from the final.” Or the two points Bryan Habana conceded to the Kiwis by prematurely rushing an (unsuccessful) Dan Carter conversion attempt that was (successfully) retaken. Not to mention an eminently kickable penalty being overturned in favour of the All Blacks because Matfield had had an opponent in a head lock.

A lot of “ifs”, a lot of “ors” but let no South African kid themselves …. there is a lot more between the two sides than the two points in the 20-18 score line. And South African rugby will be heading into dangerous territory when it starts accepting that a bronze medal at the World Cup is a pass mark. There was a time when the Boks sent the benchmark, as New Zealand does now, and the day Bok supporters accept “honour in defeat” or “brave Boks went down fighting” as newspaper headlines, is the day the Boks become the new Wales of rugby – a once proud rugby nation that has accepted it now makes up the numbers.

One way of looking at is that in the microcosm of the World Cup, the Boks did reasonably well to recover from Japan to be in a position to snatch a lucky win over the all Blacks in the semi-final. The macrocosm is not that encouraging and it is a concern that in the fourth year of the cycle that began in 2012 (after the 2011 World Cup), the Boks were poor overall. In a year in which they should have been fine-tuning a machine three years in the making, they could not back up a win, losing three Tests out of four and, including World Cup games, finish 2015 with a record just over 50 percent (played 11, won six, lost five).

In 2003, when the All Blacks lost their World Cup semi-final against Australia, it was the only game they had lost that year, yet when the team arrived back in Auckland it was the centre of a public outcry, and coach John Mitchell was promptly sacked. That is the mark of a country that does not accept defeat — the coach is fired because of a losing streak of … one match!

Meyer’s job is probably safe. Not only because South Africa has grown sadly used to failure in the professional era (when the Boks came out of isolation they had beaten the All Blacks on 20 occasions, with 15 defeats to the same opponents), and because there are no obvious contenders.

The South African Rugby Union will not countenance a foreign appointment, so let’s look inside our borders, and that leaves …. Johan Ackermann of the Lions, but he needs another four years in Super Rugby before he will be ready.

Meyer is certainly not shy of hard work, and clearly wears his heart on his sleeve, but if he is to continue, he needs big hitters to help him. His current mini-army of assistants have made no impact on the backline, in particular, in their four years. The backs have talent but they operate as individuals and a sweeping Bok backline movement is a fading memory. It was perhaps fitting that Japan’s winning try in Brighton came from a perfectly orchestrated, pre-planned backline movement, with the wing scoring in the corner. The Boks can’t do that. Bottom line.

In mitigation of judgement on Meyer, it is said that the way a team tackles reflects the morale in the ranks. An unhappy team does not tackle. Well before kick-off in yesterday’s final, the stats show that the Boks were the best defenders at this tournament, averaging 120 successes per game and missing only 13.5 (90%).

And after the Boks’ win against Argentina, four of the top five tacklers were Springboks: tie No 1 Francois Louw and Lood de Jager (both 77); No 3 Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger (both 75); with Scotland’s Jonny Gray in fifth on 67. Going into the final, Wallabies lock Kane Douglas was in seventh on 58 and in eighth was his teammate, flank Scott Hardy (55).

Burger, who had a remarkable World Cup, was top of the category “most carries over the advantage line”. His 38 carriers were two more than Japan’s Michael Leitch (36 in just four matches) while before the final, Kieran Reid of the All Blacks was third on 31. The other two places in the top five were Springboks — Damian de Allende and Duane Vermeulen (both 29).

Interestingly, in the Boks’ 48 Tests since 2012, they have scored 143 tries compared to 130 by Australia, who have played seven more Tests (not including yesterday’s final).

Those kinds of stats show that the Boks have the talent. The question going forward is how to convert individual prowess into consistent victories against the top teams. And is Meyer and his current staff up to the task?

Records of the top four on IRB rankings – 2012-15:

New Zealand:

Played 53, Won 48, Lost 3, Drawn 2

Points for: 1760

Points against: 839

Tries for: 205

Tries against: 67

Average score: 33-16

Winning %: 90.6

South Africa:

Played 48, Won 32, Lost 14, Drawn 2

Points for: 1313

Points against: 841

Tries for: 143

Tries against: 71

Average score: 27-18

Winning %: 66.7


Played 55, Won 32, Lost 21, Drawn 2

Points for: 1311

Points against: 1206

Tries for: 130

Tries against: 104

Average score: 24-22

Winning %: 58.2


Played 47, Won 13, Lost 33, Drawn 1

Points for: 958

Points against: 1333

Tries for: 84

Tries against: 139

Average score: 20-28

Winning %: 27.7

By Mike Greenaway

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