The Springboks’ stunning defeat by Japan in their opening match of the Rugby World Cup has shocked South Africa, casting doubt on the team’s chances of progressing to the final stages of the tournament.
“Ultimate Bok Humiliation”, “Boks Humiliated”—were some of the headlines in South Africa’s main newspapers Sunday.
The Sunday Times stated that the defeat by the team ranked 13 in the world “rocked the game to its very foundations”—South Africa are ranked number three and have twice won the World Cup.
Under the headline “Bok heads to roll”, the paper said the future of coach Heyneke Meyer may be in doubt following the shock defeat.
It also said the explosive match exposed flaws in Meyer’s “old man” game plan.
Meyer’s team included world cup veterans like Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana and was the most experienced South African outfit ever to take to the field with a combined total of 851 caps across the 15 starters.
In his column, former Springbok Ashwin Willemse wrote that the impact of the defeat “may be so devastating that we might not even make it past the quarterfinals or be lucky to even reach that stage”.
As a rugby-mad country, the 34-32 defeat also drew widespread shock and surprise from fans, who expected the Springboks to cruise past a Japan side that had not won a World Cup match since 1991.
“I thought it was an absolute farce, I was expecting South Africa to win by a way, way big margin,” said Wayne Saralina, a 46-year-old fan.
The Springboks went to the World Cup under the usual cloud of a race row over the selection of the team. Critics, including top government officials, have repeatedly accused the sport’s administrators of maintaining elitism by mostly selecting white players.
The Sunday Times said “the pressure on the South African Rugby Union to transform the Springboks team will grow from many quarters”
Even labor unions waded in, with the powerful confederation of trade unions, Cosatu, lambasting Meyer.
“The ‘old’ injured white men were just useless and gave Japan the space to play a great game,” said a statement by the Western Cape branch of Cosatu.
“In the first half, Heyneke had all white players except the back three, and they were completely outplayed by Japan.”
Social media was a mix of criticism for the Springboks, particularly the obsession of coach Heyneke Meyer with veterans, and praise for Japan.
“Most appalling effort I have ever seen … you should be ashamed,” tweeted Vlam Viljoen.
“Boks are the new Bafana Bafana,” said Fana Mokoena, referring to the national football team that suffered a humiliating Africa Cup of Nations qualifying defeat in Mauritania two weekends ago.
“Thinking of the great Bok coaches and captains we have had and how most would have resigned after a loss to Japan,” was the view of Lusty Len.
“Old men should not have played. Why not use young talent?” asked Heidi Middleton.
“Tough, painful and, most of all, humiliating,” was the summary of Fire Cracker.
“Meyer has a cunning plan to finish second in group and avoid New Zealand in semifinals,” joked Wordfish.
Chris Lee hailed Japan: “This is what sport is all about … a huge victory for team spirit and hard work.”
“I admire and respect dedication, determination and heart,” tweeted Esme Nortje, saying Japan were now her second favorite World Cup team after the Springboks.
Japan play Scotland Wednesday in their second Pool B game while South Africa have an additional three days to recover before meeting Samoa Saturday.