They say it is darkest before the dawn.
That may appear to be true in rugby too, as the Springboks’ ‘darkest ever’ day came two years before being crowned World Champions in Yokohama.
It took a remarkable turnaround from Rassie Erasmus to transform the Springbok squad from doormats to the penthouse of World Rugby.
But during the darkest moment, none of that was foreseeable after the Springboks had been thrashed 57-0 in Albany by the All Blacks, with many esteemed rugby writers in South Africa questioning whether things would ever get better.
57-0. Biggest defeat ever to the All Blacks. Hang your head in shame @Springboks
— Brenden Nel (@BrendenNel) September 16, 2017
South African rugby writer Brenden Nel labelled the loss worse than the shock pool match loss to Japan in 2015 in a summary for SuperSport.
“There has been Wellington in 2011 when Bryce Lawrence sent us packing from the World Cup and Brighton when Japan rocked the rugby world with their incredible feat. But at both there was always a glimmer of hope,” Nel wrote.
“Last year in Italy I believed the Boks had hit rock bottom and like many others, I was impressed by how they rallied this year under Warren Whiteley and won five tests in a row.
“But in New Zealand against the All Blacks, there is literally no place to hide. Famous for ruthlessly exploiting any weakness, this Bok team has many.”
The All Blacks had recorded their biggest ever win over South Africa while holding the visitors scoreless, topping the prior year’s 57-15 win in Durban.
“This may be the Springboks darkest night ever. But the real question is if there is a dawn,” Nel wrote.
“If lessons aren’t learnt from it, it could really spell the end of the Springboks as a superpower in world rugby.”
— Ryan Vrede (@Ryan_Vrede) September 16, 2017
— Jacques vdWesthuyzen (@jacq_west) September 16, 2017
Nobody has any idea how much the Boks are hurting. I watched the game that night again.Nothing wrong with our effort. We were outplayed.
— Brendan Venter (@BrendanVenter) September 17, 2017
Herman Mostert from Sport24 called the loss the ‘worst ever’, pinpointing the back three as a known weakness that many feared wouldn’t be up to the task.
“The Boks were hopelessly exposed out wide, with Rhule, in particular, proving to be a weak link.
“The Cheetahs flyer missed as many as nine tackles and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that he’s not the best wing South Africa can call on.”
Mostert wasn’t impressed with coach Allister Coetzee’s demeanour in the post-match press conference, who tried to put a positive spin on the result.
“Coetzee’s failure to acknowledge obvious flaws in the aftermath of Saturday’s bloodbath was an insult to Springbok fans.
“His choice to instead focus on the positives had irked many, and rightfully so. Coetzee sounds like a man in denial.”
Luckily for the Springboks, SARU made the decision to appoint Erasmus as Director of Rugby at the end of that calendar year.
How can Coetzee's position even be a debate in professional sport with this return in 2016/17? Historic 1st ever loss 2 Ire in SA, Record loss 2 Ire in Dublin. Lost 2 Arg & Italy away. 57-0 & 57-15 to NZ, 2x loss 2 Wales & worst ever year in @Springboks history 4/12 in 2016
— Mark Keohane (@mark_keohane) January 31, 2018
Coach not good enough and the players picked not good enough. World Cup is not played at Newlands against All Blacks a week after they've already won it … Dublin was the measure of Albany's accuracy & Dublin was as disastrous & damning as Albany's 57-0 #Springboks
— Mark Keohane (@mark_keohane) November 11, 2017
Another hopeless showing in Dublin in November which resulted in a 38-3 loss to Ireland may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, with Nick Mallett going on a rant on SuperSport saying that they had essentially hit rock bottom.
“We lost by 57-0 to New Zealand and afterward we heard the coaching staff saying we could take some positives out of it.
“I’ll tell you what, I cannot see any positives to be taken out of this game. I don’t care how positive you are as a personality; there are no positives out of this game.
Coetzee was eventually forced out with Erasmus taking over the team for the 2018 season and the rest became history, with the Springboks growing under Erasmus over 18 months to take home the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
But when it all seemed lost back in 2017, no one could imagine the Springboks holding the William Webb Ellis trophy again.
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