Springboks at their lowest but will rise again, says Mallett

4 min

London (AFP)

Two-time rugby union world champions South Africa are at their lowest ebb but former coach Nick Mallett told AFP 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% of your games internationally," Mallett told AFP on the sidelines of the launch of this year's Six Nations.

"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 the Principality's 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 very disappointing. Starting at this base it can't get worse."

Mallett, who took South Africa to the 1999 World Cup semi-finals but left the post a year later after falling out with the South African Rugby Football Union, 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, who was speaking as part of the Accenture Analysis Unit.

"Eddie Jones has the same players but instead of coming second they're coming first.

- Weak rand -

"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.

"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 (773,000 euros; $832,000) for playing 12 games a year in Japan.

"Who wouldn't do that?

"It doesnt matter if it's the old guys like your Richie McCaws and Dan Carters 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."