The Springboks: Brace yourself for a dark November
I was delighted to discover that someone at SuperSport had a great sense of humour in naming the weekly rugby program TMO. It's a clever way of talking about the television pundits using the acronym – in case you didn't know it – for television match official.
But the real joy was listening to Nick Mallett's analysis of last week's disastrous draw to the Barbarians. What is it about South African rugby that we can't employ a man of such immense rugby wisdom, not just rugby knowledge, in some capacity to help our struggling Springboks?
It's a crying shame that the best, clearest thinking, most eloquent, considered and knowledgeable voice about Rugby is a TMO, giving "television match opinion" as the host Elma Smit called it.
Imagine Nick Mallett as the director of rugby for South Africa. Imagine what kind of rugby establishment we would have with him inspiring our players, fixing their weaknesses, showing how to use structure in attack and defence, helping upskill our coaches, inject some intelligence into our game plan, creating the infrastructure we need and overseeing the development of our youth.
Instead, arguably our greatest coaching asset sits in a TV studio in Randburg dispensing his straight-talking insight and advise not to the coaches and players who need it most, but to the country's armchair critics.
The Springboks are in a low ebb at the moment and it's just going to get worse this month.
Forget #ZumaMustFall, the #Guptas, #Brexit, and #Trump, brace yourself for #BoksWillFall. In the last year we’ve lost to Argentina, Japan and Ireland. Italy might be next.
Saturday's game against the Eddie Jones-coached England is a going to be another one of those end-of-year humiliations. It may not be as bad as being thumped 57-15 at home by the All Blacks in Durban but its going to hurt. But under Jones – who, let's face it, was the secret ingredient that helped the Springboks win the World Cup in 2007 – England haven’t lost their last nine games and smacked the Wallabies 3-0 at home earlier this year.
Shades of that horrendous 53-3 drubbing at Twickenham in 2002 when Jannes Labuschagne’s red-carded late tackle on Jonny Wilkinson turned the game into one-way traffic, and turned Corne Krige into the arguably the dirtiest player, and certainly captain, to play for the green and gold.
“I knew we were going to lose," Krige wrote in his autobiography. "I made up my mind to take a few people down with me. I committed some appalling fouls, hitting people in possession and smashing others off the ball.
“It was the worst beating a Bok side has ever suffered; you can imagine how I felt as captain… hurt, pain, anger, resentment, fury. When I sat down in the dressing room after the final whistle I just cried my eyes out. I was mentally shattered."
Kinda of how a Springbok supporter feels right now, isn’t it?
Saturday's side has a makeshift, desperate feel to it. Just about every fetcher is injured, so Allister Coetzee has returned to his bizarre habit of picking players out of position by putting lock Pieter-Steph du Toit on the side of the scrum and Willem Alberts on the wrong side, as the openside flank.
“Willem is an experienced player and we felt like with a lot of youngsters in the team we needed someone who has been here before and won,” Coetzee said this week. “He has played quite a bit at No 7 for his club, and No 7 is the openside flank over here, so he does have some experience of the position. We could have blooded a youngster in this game but I think you have to be careful about when you blood newcomers for their test career."
You can’t really argue with that protectionist logic, but then we shouldn’t be here in the first place.
The breakdowns are going to be a disaster. Watch England slow our ball down and watch the Springboks not do the same because we have three ball-carrying loose forwards. Heinrich Brussouw where are you when we need you?
The Springbok side has a makeshift, B-side feel to it and there's no one to blame but SA rugby for that. We are reaping the lack of foresight and strategy and planning with the current crop, and the lack of secondary players coming through the system. Ha, system. If only it was that sophisticated.
Coetzee is between a rock and a hard place, as he explains why he's kept the out-of-form Damian de Allende instead of the exciting young Rohan Janse van Rensburg, but has brought in Francois Venter as outside centre.
Arguably one of the best players during the disastrous Rugby Championships was Lions winger Ruan Combrinck, who returns from injury, and is an exciting prospect who can kick with both feet. He can also play fullback, but at least this Test we have a someone who actually plays that position starting. Let's hope Willie le Roux rediscovers the form that had everyone comparing him to the Roll-Royce Andre Houbert.
I've given up hope that JP Pietersen will ever find form again after so many dismal years, but Coetzee is desperate for experience and the left wing does have a knack of pulling off try-saving tackles, if not actually scoring tries.
The tight five is the best we have at the moment. And that says a lot.
Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager are world-class locks, while Tendai Mtawarira is a World Cup winner. But it just doesn't seem like it, does it.
At least Patrick Lambie, the best flyhalf in the country right now, is starting in his favoured position, and has match-winning talent. If the game plan and the rest of the hobbled-together side can give him the front-foot ball to do it with.
* Rugby-mad Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) but was sports editor of the Mail & Guardian twice. Follow him on Twitter: @shapshak