The time to panic has arrived and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is going to have to shed his fear of losing because the struggles of 2015 have now developed into a full-scale crisis after the shock loss to Japan in their opening World Cup match.
As magnificently as Japan played, what makes the loss even harder to swallow is that Eddie Jones telegraphed their game plan during the week; everybody knew they would go low in the tackle, bring pressure on the breakdown and move the ball away quickly from the collisions, and yet Meyer and the Springboks were unable to develop or execute a strategy to counter this.
All those tired old, injured bodies were not able to physically dominate the smallest team in international rugby, so what chance do they have against the massive Samoans? And if anyone says “no, but the Springboks will be ‘up’ for that game”, then I’d like to know what the hell was wrong with them that they couldn’t get properly motivated for the World Cup opening game?!
A defeat to Samoa will, in all probability, mean a flight home after the pool stages for the Springboks, so Meyer is now in a position where he has to go for broke.
A second-row of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will bring a more physical edge, which will be a prerequisite against Samoa. Francois Louw was anonymous against Japan after his injury woes and a second flank playing to the ball in Siya Kolisi could be useful. Frans Malherbe must come in for the unfit Coenie Oosthuizen.
Schalk Burger was a busy contributor, but what did he actually achieve? He is no longer a dominant force in the collisions, turning over ball far too often in contact, and constantly popping up at flyhalf or inside centre made him a disruptive force in the backline. Duane Vermeulen has to return, as captain, and maybe even Willem Alberts, if the medical team can actually get him on to a rugby field.
Zane Kirchner, after a bright opening 10 minutes, disappeared and is a total non-contributor on attack; Willie le Roux has to return at fullback to add a creative edge to a Springbok team that is a blunt weapon offensively.
Jean de Villiers has been a tremendous captain and a great player, but the emotion of a tenacious comeback should not be allowed to cloud the reality that the best centre pairing available for the Springboks right now is Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.
It’s a great sadness that the legacy of top-class players like Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and De Villiers is being tarnished as they stumble on for a tournament too far. Du Preez should start at scrumhalf against Samoa and have a last chance to show that he still has a role to play for the Springboks.