Klopp: More to life than foot­ball

Re­cent his­tory places Boks firmly as the un­der­dogs

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE GREEN­AWAY

AT the risk of sound­ing pes­simistic, here is a bit of trivia re­gard­ing the Spring­boks in Test matches in the North­ern Hemi­sphere that puts to­day’s match against Ire­land (7.30pm) in Dublin into per­spec­tive.

The last time the Boks won north of the equa­tor was when they beat Ar­gentina in the bronze medal play-off in Lon­don at the 2015 Rugby World Cup

We need no re­mind­ing that they have not won in greater Europe un­der Al­lis­ter Coet­zee — the night­mare of the 2016 tour is only a year ago ... In fact the only away match the Boks have won un­der Coet­zee was in Salta ear­lier this year against the Pu­mas. There was a draw ear­lier in Perth, but the re­al­ity is that away from home the Boks are rather un­der­whelm­ing.

No won­der this week in Dublin, Coet­zee has been only too happy to ac­cept the un­der­dog sta­tus go­ing into the tour opener. The coach can­not be blamed for get­ting his de­fence in early, so to speak, given that the Boks are truly go­ing to have to put in a mem­o­rable per­for­mance to beat a very good Ire­land team.

But that is what we ex­pect from the Spring­boks ... ex­cel­lent per­for­mances ev­ery time they play. That should be the norm, not the ex­cep­tion. The 24-25 de­feat to the All Blacks in Cape Town in a clas­sic clash must be the min­i­mum stan­dard the na­tional team should de­liver. In fact, New­lands was not quite good enough — the Boks should have won.

Al­right, let’s not get too car­ried away, but the bot­tom line is that Spring­bok sup­port­ers de­serve to see their team de­liver the ur­gency and in­tent of that last Bok per­for­mance in ev­ery sin­gle Test. And the big­gest pres­sure on the Boks to­day is to prove that the way they played at New­lands was not an anom­aly and is the new stan­dard of per­for­mance un­der Coet­zee.

Bok scrum coach Matthew Proud­foot said early this week that the Boks know that they can­not take a step back­wards from how they played against the All Blacks, and that they have to show to­day that there is more to this side that the oc­ca­sional back­lash to a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat (in this case, the 57-0 dis­as­ter in New Zealand).

Quite right, and to­day we will see what the Boks are re­ally made of un­der Coet­zee. There can be more ex­cuses for in­ept per­for­mances. We can grudg­ingly say that last year there were mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances in that Coet­zee only got ap­pointed a month or so be­fore his first Test in charge and that with no plan­ning, a num­ber of new play­ers, and an un­der­strength back­room staff that was foisted on him, the only way was down.

The Boks started badly, lost heart and en­tered a down­ward spi­ral that bot­tomed out in Florence of all places. A Shake­spearean tragedy if ever there was one, and the cur­tain could not have come down soon enough on 2016, al­though there was one last em­bar­rass­ment in Cardiff.

In 2017 it has gone sub­stan­tially bet­ter. The Boks have won their first five Tests but dare we point out they have not won in five sub­se­quent Tests. To be fair, there have been two draws against the Wal­la­bies but the re­al­ity is that if the Boks lose to­day, it will mean they are win­less in six Tests, the pres­sure to win next week in Paris will be ex­cru­ci­at­ing and in no time Coet­zee could be back to square one, with the al­ready sharp­ened knives out.

In short, to­day’s Test is mon­u­men­tally im­por­tant to the Boks of the Coet­zee era. It is close to wa­ter­shed time for Coet­zee. This tour has to be a suc­cess if he is to be backed as the man to take the Boks to the 2019 World Cup, and the tone of the tour is al­ways set by the first match. You don’t want to get whacked in the tour opener and be forced into a rear­guard ac­tion from there.

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