The Springboks Rugby Championship campaign was disappointing. They finished third in the four-nation competition, which was won by the All Blacks.
The highlight of the Springboks Rugby Championship 2021 was proving their many detractors wrong by staging a fightback from a 9 point deficit to defeat the All Blacks 31-29 in the Gold Coast. Boxing parlance often references “opposing styles make for great fights”. This was the case between the Springboks and the All Blacks over the last two weekends. The Springboks power game based on tight phases and a stingy defense against the attacking abilities of the All Blacks. It was important for these two teams to be evenly matched given their traditional rivalry and the fact that they were involved in two important centenaries. Their hundredth Test between them and 100 years of competition. One Test each over two weekends, with zero points difference, is about right for the occasion.
South Africa 31 – Tries: Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi. Penalties: Handre Pollard (4), Elton Jantjies (2). Drop goal: Jantjies
New Zealand 29 – Tries: Sevu Reece, Ardie Savea, Brad Weber. Conversion: Jordie Barrett. Penalties: Barrett (4)
Did Lukhanyo Am just provide the 𝙖𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙨𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙮𝙚𝙖𝙧? 🙆♂️
Ridiculous pass from the Springbok centre as Damian De Allende goes over in the corner.
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) October 2, 2021
No professional team would celebrate close losses. They compete to win. This is more about the “what if” of the game. On Saturday, the Springboks won via a penalty after the final hooter. They also lost one through a penalty kick at the final hooter against Australia and another a few minutes before time against New Zealand last weekend. The closest to a blow-out was their 30 to 17 loss to Australia.
No squad development
Unlike the rest of the rugby world, the Springboks did not play as a squad for 18 months. In 18 months, all teams will experience a level of change in their squad make-up. Attack and defensive patterns are tinkered with. Most importantly, out-of-form players are exposed and replaced by in-form players. This was lacking in the Springbok squad selection in 2021.
The combination of Nienaber and Erasmus relied on the bulk of their 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning team. Players like Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard and Willie le Roux are not playing at the same standard that they were in 2019, but were selected as not many other players were given the chance to develop their international credentials in those 18 months.
Some will point to South Africa not playing in the 2020 Rugby Championship as their own fault for not getting game time. The reality is that all South African sporting codes were prohibited from representing their country under local lockdown rules.
A tired squad
The 18-month gap between Tests ended with a single Test against Georgia. The second Test was cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The Springboks then went into a three-Test series against the touring British and Irish Lions squad and all the pressure and uproar around Rassie Erasmus’s video.
That was followed by another six Tests in the Springboks Rugby Championship campaign. They are likely to only get a week’s rest before departing to the UK for their end-of-year tour. This squad is tired and stale and needs a break.
The extended bio-bubble
The sacrifices made by this Springbok squad should not be underestimated. By the time they arrive home from Australia, most of them would have spent close to 19 weeks in a bio-bubble. That is an extraordinary sacrifice of time with their families and children, living in an artificial environment.
Other sporting codes are starting to experience players pulling out of tours and tournaments to take a break from these bio-bubbles. It is understood that SA Rugby are in discussion with their UK counterparts. The request is that the Springboks are allowed a softer bio-bubble than they would usually be exposed to. This is especially relevant as South Africa is still on the UK’s COVID-19 red list.
Although not on the table yet, there is a sentiment that if the Springboks are not given this allowance they might opt out of their End of year tour. If this does happen expect another riot on social media, with keyboard warriors around the world going on the attack.
Springboks Rugby Championship key takeout
The Springboks current interpretation of how the game should be played has drawn a lot of criticism. What is ignored is what they have been exposed to in order to get to this point. What is forgotten is that they had already achieved their primary goal for 2021. Defeating the touring British and Irish Lions.
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