Springboks at their lowest ebb but they will be back, says former coach Nick Mallett
South Africa are hoping for a far improved year as the fallout from a horror 2016 continues
Two-time world champions South Africa are at their lowest ebb but former coach Nick Mallett says they can return to being a power in the sport.
The 60-year-old, who guided the Springboks to a record 17-match unbeaten streak in 1997-98 including sweeping the then tri-nations title, advocated a new set of assistant coaches were required to instil belief in the battered squad.
The Springbok tour of the northern hemisphere last year saw them lose to England, Wales and humiliatingly to Italy – a far cry from Mallett’s tour in 1998 when they racked up huge wins against Wales (96-13), France (52-10), Scotland (68-10) and Ireland (33-0).
“Yeah it is heartbreaking but I think this is probably as low as it can go, winning just 33 per cent of your games internationally,” Mallett said.
“I would never have thought they’d lose to Ireland at home or lose to Argentina ever.
“I didn’t think they’d ever lose to Italy, against Wales it was an unusual event [only Wales’ third win in 110 years], so those are four losses right there that shouldn’t have been.
“The record defeat to New Zealand [57-15 in Durban] and capitulating at home is very disappointing. Starting at this base it can’t get worse.”
Mallett said Eddie Jones had shown the way by taking over a group of dejected players following England’s humbling first round exit at the 2015 World Cup and turning them into Six Nations grand slam winners months later.
“Just get the enthusiasm and energy back and for that maybe you need a different set of assistant coaches as replacing the head coach [Allister Coetzee] would be expensive,” said Mallett.
“Eddie Jones has the same players but instead of coming second they’re coming first. That’s what a coach does. He goes there and makes them believe they’re not a second placed guy but a first placed bloke.
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“South Africa needs coaches to get in there and make the players believe they can compete against anyone in the world. At the end of the tour they didn’t look like they could compete against anyone.”
Mallett added that the Sprinbgoks could not fall back on the tactics used by their predecessors who won the 2007 World Cup.
“World Rugby laws reward attacking rugby,” said Mallett. “We won the 2007 World Cup playing without the ball.
“We kicked it away and relied on driving mauls and kicking penalties to win but you can’t win the World Cup like that any more.”
England-born Mallett, whose family emigrated to what was then Rhodesia when he was a few weeks old, places his faith in a return to the good old days because of one crucial resource.
“South Africa is in a really low spot at the moment but I think they will get back, though, it will be gradual,” he said. “We have too many good rugby players to stay down there.”
However, even that resource is under threat because he says of the weak state of national currency, the rand.
“The real worry is they are attracted by the euro, pound and yen,” he said. “After all it is the future for these guys and if they haven’t got a Springbok contract they’d rather play for Toulon or Montpellier and earn five times more than in South Africa.
“The rand really struggled over the past two years. I was told by Jacques Fourie he was being paid the equivalent of 11 million rand (HK$6.4m) for playing 12 games a year in Japan.
“Who wouldn’t do that? It doesn’t matter if it’s the old guys like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter who are going.
“However, you don’t want your young players like CJ Stander [now playing for Ireland] or Jacques du Plessis [23-year-old playing for Top 14 side Montpellier] going. That’s a real worry.”