After their strange mix of results since June, you can either genuinely believe they have turned the corner … or you can easily find a way to justify that they are on a road to nowhere.
If you find yourself in the group looking on the bright side, you’ll argue that they have only lost twice this year in nine Tests which is great compared to their horrendous 2016, they have shown tremendous mettle in almost pulling off what would have been a sensational turnaround against the All Blacks, that they are still growing as a team, that they have had to cope without their inspiring captain Warren Whiteley for seven matches, that there are some positions like all of the back three that are still finding their way in international rugby and that the star-studded coaching staff hasn’t been together long enough to make a bigger impact.
If you fall in this optimistic group, you might even agree with assistant coach Brendan Venter that winning isn’t everything. If you had to pick your jaw off the floor after Venter’s now infamous tweet, you’ll have very strong counter-arguments to this annoyingly rosy picture.
No doubt the first thing you’ll argue is that the one-point loss against the All Blacks at Newlands means nothing because it was a dead rubber and the Kiwis had nothing to play for. And that giving them a sudden run for their money can never … never ever … paper over the humiliation of conceding nine tries in the 57-0 loss. I can just hear them bitch about Elton Jantjies, someone I sometimes think divides opinion more than Naas Botha during his heyday.
Over the last two seasons, I haven’t been in one rugby conversation where not at least one person has a go at Jantjies, so it’s pretty much par for the course. Then you’ll also say yes, we have only lost twice, but on the other hand there are also only five wins to show in nine Tests and those five wins aren’t really anything to write home about.
The strength – or lack thereof – of the French team is also serious ammunition for the non-believers. The 3-0 series against them in June can’t count for too much, because France can barely stay ahead of Fiji in the world rankings at No 8. Not to mention Argentina, who are two places below the French. And the five matches against those two actually account for the sum total of Bok wins in 2017.
For those taking a more measured approach, it’s been difficult trying to establish whether this team is half-decent or half-rubbish. They are certainly not as bad as 57-0 against the All Blacks, but also not as good as 25-24.
Hopefully they provide some answers on the year-of-the-tear tour, but then again we could easily be left with even more questions by Christmas. As for Jantjies … rather the devil we know is my call.