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The darkest hour in Bok history

It took a radio show host from across the ocean to send a jolt of reality back into my battered brain on Sunday, when I was asked to make an assessment of the carnage of Albany a day before.

Less than 24 hours earlier the Springboks had suffered their biggest defeat at the hands of the All Blacks, a frustratingly agonising result - not only for the team, but for anybody who cares about the green and gold.

It was a nightmare – a perfect storm – as coach Allister Coetzee put it on Sunday night and a result that shook the foundations of 111 years of rugby between the two great sides.

“There is nothing I can say right now that would offer any assessment,” I replied. “Because right now 57-0 screams a lot louder than any spin, any sugar-coating or any assessment that would make any sense of it all.”

In the professional era there have been some solemn nights in Springbok rugby. I experienced my first on my first trip to Eden Park in 1997, where the Boks lost 55-35 and Carel du Plessis praised his players for playing so well.

Afrikaans scribe Louis de Villiers and I sneered at the assessment, given the Boks had two soft tries and were never in the game, earning a red card for Andre Venter and losing Ruben Kruger to injury.

It was a night of horrors for me, as my first test in Auckland was one of my lifelong dreams.

Since then there have been others. And thankfully I haven’t been present at some of them.

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.

Last year in Italy I believed the Boks had hit rock bottom and like many others I was impressed 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.

Without their regular captain and some others, they never had the mettle to pass this test, despite everyone’s best hope of talking the Boks up before the game.

And when it started it became a massacre that few will forget in the years to come.

This may be the Springboks darkest night ever. But the real question is if there is a dawn.

As a reality check, it was one of the harshest ever for a sporting side and one that if lessons aren’t learnt from it, could really spell the end of the Springboks as a superpower in world rugby.

Firstly, all talk of the rugby rivalry with the All Blacks should stop. It is a nice history lesson, but it belongs in history. A rivalry is defined as a situation where teams/people compete for the same thing. That may be true in history in this case, but in recent times it hasn’t been so by a long shot.

Since the 2009 Springbok team beat them three times in a row, they regrouped and came back better. They have emerged into the strongest unit in world rugby for their professionalism and amazing consistency.

All this while the Boks have regressed and been stripped bare by overseas signings.

The All Blacks have won 14 of their last 16 encounters against the Springboks, 10 of their last 11 tests and five in a row after Saturday. To talk of rugby’s greatest rivalry is a bad joke, and the blame falls squarely on us.

There are many reasons for this, and these will be editorially scrutinised over the coming weeks, so I won’t go into them here, suffice to say that if this defeat is treated like any other, the Boks will set themselves up for more failure. Rugby players like to tell us that it isn’t how you fall, but how you rise from the fall that matters.

Well, the Boks have fallen so badly that it isn’t surprising that many of their fans ask if they can rise again? It is a valid question and one that only they can answer?

There need to be some long, hard and brutally honest assessments in this off week if they are to recover, including whether the current personnel – both at management and player level – can take them to the World Cup with confidence. That is something the decision-makers will need to assess, not over-react or panic, and come back with a plan to get the Boks back on top.

And that is something only the players – those who trudged in heads hung low at OR Tambo on Sunday night, will know how to handle.

In 2006 Jake White’s team lost 49-0 to Australia in Australia and won the World Cup a year later. It is proof that there is light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

The words of Josh Shipp, motivational speaker ring true in these circumstances and should be read to all the Boks this week.

“You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple

“You either take what was dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you!”

The choice is yours Springboks. October 7 and Newlands awaits. Albany can never be reclaimed.

The nation awaits your answer.

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