Goddamnit Springboks, you were so close. Everything was going well after the heroic loss to the All Blacks in Cape Town, then you go to Dublin and get hosed by the Irish.
There’s setbacks, then there’s getting thrashed 38-3. This wasn’t like when the hungover All Blacks sleepwalked through their test loss to Ireland in Chicago, and even then New Zealanders were happy for a the Irish to achieve something so monumental. Even though the weekend’s result was a record win for the Irish, the spotlight definitely isn’t on them this time. It’s blasting squarely on the Boks, melting their wings and causing them to crash to the ground after the Cape Town comeback that restored so much pride and hope to the traditional superpower.
How did this happen?
Just last month we had the brilliance of Malcolm Marx, a fired-up home crowd and maybe the best All Black performance of the season to overcome them in a classic test match.
Now, after the weekend, the Boks are back to being the raging dumpster fire they were in Albany, last year against Italy and, most depressingly, at the World Cup against Japan. However, don’t forget that they went on to make the semi-finals of that same tournament, and only go down by two points to the All Blacks.
More or less exactly the same as the French team in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, who were thumped by the All Blacks in pool play and contrived to lose to Tonga. They still managed to fall arse-first into the final, where they lost a thriller by one point.
So are the Springboks the new unpredictable team in world rugby? Particularly one that the All Blacks have to constantly fear because of their propensity to pull out a fantastic performance when least expected?
Judging by any article about the South African rugby that gets put on Facebook, Bok fans already have a French-like contempt for their coach, however that’s probably due to some deeply rooted cultural issues more than anything else.
Meanwhile, France have gone from being the unpredictable force to just being plain awful. Ever since the aforementioned 2011 RWC final appearance, they’ve achieved absolutely nothing. They haven’t been helped by a free-market economic approach to the game by their club owners, who have had no hesitation with replacing promising locals with expensive imports. Ironically many of the players clogging up the French system are ex-Springboks.
Despite having the highest paid domestic competition in the world, they were reduced to sending out a team of no names in their latest test outing.
The two sides meet this weekend in Paris, with the French probably going in with some confidence – given their loss to the All Blacks wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Springboks’ humiliation in Dublin. However, it is still worth remembering that Les Bleus still lost by 20 points to an All Black side that pretty much quit at halftime, so they shouldn’t get too carried away with themselves.
Which Bok side will show up? And, more importantly, how long are we going to be asking ourselves this question leading into another test weekend?