Saturday had to be the darkest day in the proud history of the Springboks, which goes all the way back to 1891. The 34-32 lost to the Japanese minnows was far worse than the 53-3 hammering England meted out at Twickenham in 2002, or the 49-0 whitewash in Brisbane in 2006. The team that took to the field in green and gold – the most experienced ever – seemed scarcely worthy of the jersey, with the exception, perhaps, of young lock Lood de Jager and veteran Victor Matfield.
Skipper Jean de Villers looked hopelessly out of sorts, and at 34 must surely be at the end of the line. He, together with coach Heyneke Meyer, must shoulder a lot of the blame for not marshalling the troops.
The Springboks played aimlessly, without any real hunger, and looked guilty of taking victory for granted from the first whistle. They conceded a number of penalties and their indiscipline cost them dearly in the final accounting. Not the opportune time for Vodacom to SMS that I had won a Bok jersey. Forget that. The result capped a mediocre last 10 months for the country’s national teams. Bafana and the Proteas will be waiting for the Boks at the airport, I reckon.
The victors have come a long way since they were humiliated by the All Blacks at the 1995 World Cup. They seem to have a taste for southern African opposition, too – the only other team they have managed to best at the global showpiece is Zimbabwe.
You’ve got to hand it to the Japanese. They played with so much pride and passion that it is a wonder that the winning margin was not a lot more than two points. Master tactician Eddie Jones had prepared them well for the Springbok onslaught and they took full advantage of their opponents’ indiscipline. The rugby world is sitting up and taking notice.
Of course, it doesn’t bode well for the Boks’ title aspirations and it will be a miracle if they get anywhere near the final. No team has ever gone on to hoist the Webb Ellis trophy aloft after losing their first game. However, the situation calls for cool heads – especially now that Meyer appears to have avoided the temptation to fall on a Samurai sword – any reactive measures or change of leadership right now could prove even more disastrous.
The blood may be running green on the streets, but the Springboks need the support of the nation now more than ever before.