Peter Bills: De Villiers caught in middle of massive split in Boks camp
A major split has opened up within the Springboks coaching management team, sources close to South African rugby alleged last night.
They say that significant differences exist between the coaching style espoused by assistant coaches Dick Muir and Gary Gold. Head coach Peter de Villiers is said to be wavering, uncertain which way to go forward.
The source, who has impeccable connections to the Springboks and their squad, said: "Dick Muir wants to play a complete attacking game, ball in hand the whole time like the New Zealanders have done in this Tri Nations.
"Gary Gold wants to play a structured game, based much more on traditional Springbok rugby values. And Peter de Villiers doesn't know which way to go forward."
The source further claimed that the senior players, men like John Smit and Victor Matfield, were playing a major part in running the team, but that internal belief and discipline was breaking down under the lack of a single clear voice in the camp.
The Springboks' performances on their Tri Nations tour seemed to confirm such suggestions. They looked uncertain as to which gameplan they were supposed to be playing. At times in Brisbane, they played a traditional South African style, driving the ball up strongly among the forwards and then hoisting high kicks.
On other occasions, they threw the ball around down the backline as though it were a game of Sevens, and their passing accuracy was often pretty ordinary.
When they did that, they looked like a side that is clearly uncomfortable playing in this manner because they are not sufficiently familiar with it.
Suggestions of discord at the top of Springbok rugby would certainly explain this disastrous Tri Nations tour which ended with a third consecutive defeat.
For somehow, half a dozen top South African players have, in the course of less than a year, gone from certain starters for an elite World XV to a bunch of also-rans.
Something has happened to bring about this state of affairs, and the allegations made concerning the Springbok coaching hierarchy would explain a lot. For the fact is, even in their team selections, the South Africans have got it wrong consistently in the last eight months. The rot began to set in late last year when the Springboks toured the northern hemisphere and even endured the humiliation of defeat by English club side Leicester, besides also losing to France and Ireland.
Then, last month, the nonsensical decision was made to send John Smit and Victor Matfield, South Africa's two key men for next year's World Cup in New Zealand, all the way to Wales for a meaningless Test match at the end of a long, hard Super 14 season.
Still worse, the Springbok management compounded the lunacy by picking Matfield against Italy, a second-tier nation.
It was as though coach De Villiers felt unable to go into a Test match without his two most senior players, fearful of losing if they were not there. But this non-stop diet of rugby has come home to haunt the South Africans.
Their senior players have looked close to falling apart on this tour, a pale shadow of their true selves.
Smit was asked on Saturday night if his side's failures could be attributed to the absence of Fourie du Preez. Wisely, he resisted the temptation to clutch at straws, saying: "If we looked at it that way, we wouldn't be giving ourselves a fair chance of competing not only for next year's World Cup, but for the remaining games."
The Springbok management have some searching questions to face in the course of the next couple of weeks. If they cannot come up with suitable answers, maybe someone else in South African rugby has to start taking some tough decisions.