South Africa’s fall a symptom of larger malaise in rugby

Record defeat to Ireland shows need to put greater value on being part of a national team

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton  avoids Andries Coetzee during the Ireland v South Africa match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton avoids Andries Coetzee during the Ireland v South Africa match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The era of untouchable giants crumbles: the Springboks and Les Bleus can no longer be considered global rugby powers.

That Allister Coetzee’s shambolic outfit are still ranked fifth and France eighth in the world, despite the latest All Black humiliation in Paris, tells a worrying story about the damage being inflicted upon the sport.

“The process is a little bit more intricate and tough to explain,” said Bath flanker Francois Louw. “It’s a terrible place to be in.”

South Africa’s record defeat to Ireland shows why the Rainbow Nation desperately needs to host the 2023 World Cup. It may be why the governing body’s recommendation came out so strongly in their favour despite the technical report’s questionable scoring system.

France and South Africa, two sides of the same coin, suffer from 22 years of a largely unchecked, grossly unbalanced professional entity that sees international exposure sacrificed for financial security.

Players like Simon Zebo know their value and it isn’t to be gained in a camouflaged green jersey. “C’est la vie,” tweeted the Munster fullback on Saturday with a picture celebrating in between Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe. Loyalty to a flag, to a nation of one’s birth, has become increasingly irrelevant.

Flooding teams

French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte has promised to stop Top 14 clubs from flooding their teams with foreign players because the progress of young French talent is stymied by enormous South African and South Sea Islanders journeying north to command salaries that, in several cases, protect the future of entire communities back home.

A global game? Tell that to the bankrupt Samoans who so nearly caught Scotland at Murrayfield

“Sometimes you got make do with the players you have,” Louw explained away his strange selection at number eight when the most ferocious ball carrier on the planet, Duane Vermeulen, is stranded on the Côte d’Azur.

“Definitely not the result we expected. The biggest problems lie with our training transfer. We had a good week, good strategy in place but didn’t execute that dominantly. That resulted in a pretty awful test match.

“It’s tough to tour Europe,” he added before inadvertently revealing the problem: “I play my rugby up here, I know what it is about.”

Despondent South Africa players after their defeat to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Despondent South Africa players after their defeat to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Roll on Wednesday’s conclave. For better or worse, November 15th, 2017 could prove the date that defines the future direction of rugby union.

A global game? Tell that to the bankrupt Samoans who so nearly caught Scotland at Murrayfield.

Japanese inaction has prompted World Rugby to release threatening statements every year since awarding them the 2019 World Cup. They messed up construction of their flagship stadium. Their government’s financial guarantee is complicated. Great idea bringing the Yen firmly into rugby’s family – but they are not ready.

South Africa could host tomorrow.

Lies in ruins

Yet the Springboks’ reputation lies in ruins. Losing 57-0 to the All Blacks in North Shore City on September 16th was described by John Robbie as an “aberration” in this paper on Saturday. In New Zealand that can happen any team. See Declan Kidney’s farewell voyage as Ireland coach in 2012.

“Zero would be a good return,” said Ronan O’Gara at half-time on RTÉ as everyone readjusted their sights.

“Pathetic,” said Shane Horgan.

This was not of Test match standard. An Aviva stadium measure of which comes with Johnny Sexton wincing as he kicks Ireland into a defendable lead before departing in agony. The almost unerring Sexton sprinted off the field on 75 minutes. Malcolm Marx dumped him to punish some first-half bravery, but Sexton survived and thrived.

Ireland lost Peter O’Mahony to a “bloodied ear” following an accidental touch off Siya Kolisi’s stud. That was it. Against these Springboks.

Coetzee’s media interactions reveal a coach so far out of his depth that it is too late to swim for shore

“In the changing room, physically, the players wouldn’t say [South African rugby] is going backwards,” Schmidt claimed. “I guess the margins in Test match rugby tend to be exaggerated sometimes . . .”

This does not wash. Schmidt is following age-old values of respecting the opposition.

“We would be naive to think the next time we play the Springboks there would be a 35-point margin because that’s just not reality.”

Transform

It might be. The inference perhaps being that Rassie Erasmus will transform South Africa’s fortunes in a manner similar to last season’s Munster revival.

And so to the embattled, repeatedly humiliated Coetzee. By all accounts a decent man, the 54-year-old’s media interactions reveal a coach so far out of his depth that it is too late to swim for shore.

This must play out over excruciating November weekends.

“I cannot just see anything like this changing in a short space of time,” Coetzee admitted before checking himself: “We have three tests, one against France in a short space of time, and we have to come out and improve. To learn from this one.”

World Cup 2023. A tournament that could breathe life into an ailing rugby nation. Which one will be revealed on Wednesday. No longer any debate over who needs it most.

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