High noon for De Villiers
November 23, 2010
Peter De Villiers braves the rain at Murrayfield © Getty Images
There are some things we take for granted in South Africa and beating Scotland at rugby is right up there with sunny skies, big steaks and spacious hotel rooms.
I refer to the latter because I am in a supposedly swanky hotel in London, but my home for the next two weeks will be a decidedly cramped little room as I continue to cover South Africa's latest ill-fated tour to the northern hemisphere.
Saturday was my fourth visit to Murrayfield and I consider myself fortunate to have missed one of South African rugby's darkest hours when the Springboks lost there in 2002. I had consoled myself that it was merely part of the blip that was the Rudolf Straeuli coaching era and would not happen again. Well, at least not for a decade or three, maybe even four...
Now please don't accuse me of typical South African arrogance. Having covered rugby for a long time I have learned when and where to give credit and when and where it's due. Yes, I believe Scotland deserve credit for beating South Africa on the weekend.
But should it really have happened? Anyone who follows rugby in South Africa will testify to the vast reservoir of talent in the country. I believe Scotland remain a limited side in spite of the weekend's win and have as much chance of winning the World Cup as their football team, whereas the sky is the limit for South Africa if they channel their resources properly.
Last week, after the Wales game, I wrote a column for the Afrikaans daily newspapers in South Africa questioning whether the Springboks have really progressed in spite of their tour victories over Ireland and Wales.Had Ronan O'Gara's conversion attempt been a centimetre to the left, South Africa would have been left ruing in their wastefulness after being 23-9 up. They held on to win 23-21.
What saved them at the Millennium Stadium was their champion spirit and the Welsh inferiority complex. Wales had the team to beat a South African outfit not playing close to their potential, but did not believe in themselves and the Boks knew it.
And then came Scotland - a match South Africans regard as a routine victory. The only thing is that the Scots were smarting after being thrashed by the All Blacks and the Boks had been riding their luck to a point where it papered over some obvious cracks.
South Africa defended their line desperately in the second-half to see off the threat of Wales, but the Boks' tackling was actually quite atrocious in the first-half. That was also the case in the Tri-Nations, in which they lost five out of six games. Defence has traditionally been a South African strength and the Stormers were the most effective defensive unit in the Super 14.
For those that believe South Africans were reluctant to embrace the new interpretation of the breakdown laws, consider that the Bulls and the Stormers contested the Super 14 final.All the tools were there for Springbok coach Peter De Villiers and his lieutenants, Dick Muir and Gary Gold, to have a cracking international season.
The rot did not start at Murrayfield. We could still excuse last year's European tour based on South Africa winning a series against the British & Irish Lions, as well as the Tri-Nations. However, the Boks have now won only 8 of their last 16 Tests, a statistic that proves they are a declining force in world rugby ahead of Saturday's showdown against England in Twickenham. This is a match that may well determine whether the coaching team stays or goes before the World Cup.
South Africa have an outstanding coach like Heyneke Meyer as a possible long-term successor to De Villiers and there is no reason that their rugby bosses should consider it necessary to tolerate failure. Not for the first time then it's high noon for a Springbok coach at Twickenham. Jake White survived the chop with a 25-14 win in 2006. It will be interesting to see how Peter De Villiers ultimately reflects on the clash of 2010.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
He teed up Obolensky's try, fought in Burma and played cricket for Warwickshire - we Rewind to look at the story of Peter Cranmer
With the World Cup just a year away, Tom Hamilton picks out five matches to ensure you have tickets for
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup