In the wake of several positive Covid-19 tests in the Springboks’ squad, a New Zealand rugby scribe says “bad karma seems to be lurking around the Springboks” since they withdrew from the 2020 Rugby Championship.
The buildup to the Boks’ highly anticipated three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions has been challenging on all fronts amid a string of positive Covid-19 tests in both camps, as well as in the Georgia squad following their warm-up game against South Africa.
Ben Smith, a RugbyPass.com columnist, who had previously penned another controversial piece suggesting the Boks weren’t worthy of their No 1 status, has again hit out at SA Rugby and the Springboks over their withdrawal from the 2020 Rugby Championship.
In his latest onslaught, Smith writes that the game is the ultimate humbler and as much as teams, players and coaches preach about it and try to manage egos, the game itself has a funny way of sorting out those left unchecked.
“When rugby was halted in 2020, it wasn’t the pandemic that was touted as the main reason for their shock withdrawal from the Rugby Championship. According to Rugby Australia, they had agreed to attend and were happy with the schedule.
“When the backflip came, it was the players ‘not getting enough minutes’ to be ready for Test rugby. The old player welfare chestnut.
“Well, here we are on the eve of the Lions series and the SA Rugby [Saru] must be pulling the pin any day now, as these players have got nowhere near the required level of play that they needed last year.
“Yet we all know that isn’t going to happen, making last year’s spin look dubious at best. According to Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus recently, ‘We will never not have enough players to play. We will have enough numbers … even if we have to pick a totally new team’.
“Ahem. So why didn’t you last year then? About last year’s dodging effort – no one knows if the players were up for the tour or challenge. Were they asked? It’s hard to see them turning down the chance to play for the Springboks.
“The players probably would have stepped up to play for their country, but they also likely didn’t have a say. They were denied a year of their Test careers by the withdrawal, and in the process, SA Rugby started to cheat the game, keeping the number one tag without earning it.
“Imagine then, after pulling the pin on your Sanzaar partners and costing everyone millions in the process, then calling up NZR to ask the All Blacks for a match in Dubai because you are desperate for a quality warm-up match; asking them to also ditch Fiji in the process.
“Thanks, but no thanks. Good luck against Georgia. Bad karma seems to be lurking around these Springboks, as after one Test against the Georgians, the bubble was broken and the second Test had to be called off. Left with no choice but to stack the South Africa A side to try and get ready for a Test series.
“They turned down competition last year and now are underprepared after an unfortunate sequence of circumstances. How fate loves irony. It shouldn’t be lost that the Lions are being asked to do most of what the Springboks were unwilling to last year. This series could have played in Europe with crowds, or even in Australia. There were more sensible options.
“Whatever was discussed behind closed doors, we now have the situation Saru wanted, yet at every turn it is unravelling and the challenges to overcome are mounting. Their bed has been made and now they have to sleep in it, so to speak.
“If the Springboks go ahead and win this series, it will be a testament to the quality of the playing group to pull together through adversity. It is has become a much tougher ask than it should have been. And in that sense, a series win should hold more merit.
“Their reward will be to head down under for two Tests each away against the Wallabies and All Blacks. For their sake, and that of the series, let’s hope their superiors haven’t tempted fate enough to be humbled by the game. The noise is growing louder, the chirpiness is visible on Twitter. Pride is swelling, which generally comes before the fall.
“Ask yourself, what would be the most ironic outcome for the Springboks after all of this?”
Photo: Steve Haag