With the Springboks left to lick their wounds, former World Cup winner, Bobby Skinstad is unruffle and says the North-South gap isn't unsurmountable
Even though the Springboks bowed out in heroic, agonising circumstances to the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final last weekend, their 2007 World Cup winning backrow, Bobby Skinstad, says the side did more than enough not to be defined by the never-to-be-forgotten loss to Japan on the first weekend.
For Skinstad, now a TV pundit for SuperSport in Cape Town, the competition has marked something of a changing of the guard within Springbok ranks. “The experimental nature of South African rugby is sometimes suppressed a little, but during the tournament I’d say the upside is we’ve uncovered more quality personnel. Heyneke (Meyer) has had to experiment because of injuries to the likes of Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield.”
What has pleased the 42-cap former Bok captain is that the players who stood in have grown in stature. “Take Damien de Allende. He has been one of our best performers, while Jesse (Kriel) has been outstanding in attack. You have to remember Jesse is just 21 and still learning. Not many people know but Jesse has played for two teams at centre. One is Baby Boks at U20 Level and the other is the Springboks. Usually he plays at full-back, so it’s been a massive learning curve and he’s stepped up.”
Skinstad says one player who could break up the burgeoning midfield is Jan Serfontein, the 2012 Young Player of the Year. “Jan is very talented and has been unlucky with injuries. He pushed Damien and Jesse in this World Cup. You have the nucleus of a very strong midfield and they’re all in their early twenties.”
Skinstad says despite a settled current back three now, there could be changes for Japan 2019. “The back three are settled atthe moment but there will be different personnel. They will lose Bryan (Habana) who’s 32, while JP (Pietersen) might be around. Willie Le Roux probably will be, whileBryan’s understudy is Lwase Mvovo who is 29 so we may see others emerging.”
Somewhere the former No 8 has more personal experience is in the pack, where he sees ‘traditional’ values being upheld. “During this World Cup we’ve returned to having more than one enforcer. South Africa has always had five or six players who can carry, tackle, hit rucks. It’s the South Africa way.”
Like the backs, Skinstad says there are loose forwards ready to take over from the likes of Schalk Burger and Francois Louw. “Nizaam Carr who narrowly missed the RWC squad, Siya Kolise who just made the squad but didn’t see much game time and back five player, Pieter Steph du Toit are all capable of replacing the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts when the time is right. 2015 saw the last of 2007 World Cup winners at the tournament but we’re in pretty good shape for 2019.”
As for the much-lamented Northern Hemisphere, Skinstad doesn’t subscribe to the notion that there is a chasm between them and the boys in the South. “I wouldn’t say they’re lacking in skill with the North. Remember Wales and Scotland pushed South Africa and Australia very, very close.”
Skinstad says he was impressed with Wales’ resilience but says they’ll be disappointed with their execution. “Wales should have scored on two occasions early on. The fact they didn’t cost them the game. The Boks had one and they took it. One chance. I’m not going to bash players, but Wales had the ability with fewer injuries to finish off one of those chances. When you start converting those chances, you’re going to win games more often than not.”
The former Stormer also doesn’t believe there should be leadership change at the top with England.
“There’s no need for root and branch upheaval. Take England. If you turf the coach, you risk losing the culture (Stuart) Lancaster has built. The players will have learnt a huge amount this tournament and it wasn’t exactly an easy pool. They were playing No 3 and No 5 in the World. Clive Woodward lost to us in 1999 and was roasted by the press but he kept his job. He sold a vision and won in 2003. The same with Graham Henry in 2007 and they won in 2011. There’s no need to throw the baby out of the bath water.”
As for Wales, Skinstad says Warren Gatland has finished with his reputation almost enhanced. “I mean, what more could he have done? He’s had the sniper on the hill snipping the hamstrings of players. Literally nothing he could have done anything about. In the circumstances, they’ve had a good tournament.”
As for Ireland, he also not got sympathy as their players dropped, one by one. “Since coming in, Joe Schmidt has been excellent for Ireland but they started to get lots of key injuries with (Paul) O’Connell and (Peter) O’Mahony out and Sean O’Brien lost to suspension. It was bad luck. As for Scotland, they were magnificent against Australia and look like a side on the up.”
With Northern Hemisphere side heading South next summer and Ireland due to travel South Africa next, the boys of the North will soon have a chance to start redressing the balance.
Bobby Skinstad was speaking at Beyond Rugby at London’s City Hall as part of the Beyond Sport Summit & Awards