The Springboks: A DA housewife's lament

Jeremy Gordin asks what Nienaber thinks he is doing sending the team into a test without a goal-kicker


One lovely summer’s evening, about 18 years ago – long before it became acceptable in polite society to notice that our national wheels were falling off – my gorgeous wife unexpectedly “spoke out” to a number of people seated around our kitchen/dining-room table.

Now, maybe my wife was tired and emotional from having had to prepare a sumptuous repast all on her own; I don’t like to interfere when a maestra is busy in the kitchen. On the other hand, however, perhaps my wife was simply telling the “truth” about what she had observed – like Hans Christian Andersen’s young ‘un who noticed that the emperor’s fine new clothes were de facto non-existent.

Her words were certainly surprising. For it was (and is) common cause that my wife, a wee slip of a lassie who hails from the civilized glades of Constantia, is (publicly, anyway) the gentlest, politest and sweetest of human beings: someone who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, especially not one sitting at our table, and who is light years removed from being a balebuste, a Yiddish term denoting inter alia a bossy and preferably large-ish homemaker [i].

Be that as it may, what my wife announced was that, according to her observations, the ANC clearly consisted of a pack of disgusting thieves.

As you will understand, this led to a hush around the dinner table. At which delicate point a (then) good friend, someone rather senior in the ANC hierarchy, responded thus with an unhappy grimace: “That sounds like something a DA housewife would say ...”

Thereafter, in the interests of good manners and fellowship, we all resolutely pursued subjects unrelated to national wheels, the ANC, variations of disgust, and thieves. When, however, everyone not a Gordin had gone home, my wife said to me, “Well, I am a bloody DA housewife, aren’t I?”

Please do not, dear reader, misunderstand my wife – or, as André Gide once remarked, “Please do not understand [her] too quickly”.

My wife was not indicating that I was a carry-carrying DA member; I didn’t have a card then and don’t now. Nor was she acknowledging that she was a “housewife”; if I correctly understand the definition of the word, she wasn’t and isn’t one of those either.

My wife was, rather, referring to the content of what she’d said and to the response. Viz., if what she’d said was purportedly what a DA card-carrier’s wife might say about the ANC, well then, my wife was more than happy to acknowledge that the cap fitted – or, to put it another way, that the card might as well be in my wallet and that she was content in this instance to be called a housewife. 


These days, huddled in the darkness of so-called loadshedding, my wife and I occasionally recall that occurrence, especially when she’s figuratively (due to the dark) leafing through the Zondo commission reports and pointing out to the intimidated person seated diagonally opposite her (i.e., me) just how precisely she was on the money all those years ago.

En weet djulle wat? I too suddenly also recollected the event – on Wednesday afternoon this week.

I was talking (or shouting) telephonically to an acquaintance, an accomplished journalist, formerly an accomplished sports journalist. My voice was rapidly climbing higher and higher, so much so that it almost reached the falsetto peak. For I was incandescent with rage as I gaaned aan much better about the Springbok rugby coach, Jacques Nienaber, and his reputed mentor, Rassie Erasmus, the SA director of rugby.

In other words, I too was sounding very much “like a DA housewife,” as per the example given above – because I was voicing something that seemed perfectly obvious, seemed perfectly “true,” but that no one says out loud, presumably fearing that he or she will be called ... well, not a DA housewife, but something equally (allegedly) cringeworthy.

In fact, the sage journalist on the other end of the line (or the radio waves, if you prefer) agreed.

“Ja,” he said, “the rugby reporting one reads these days is simply anodyne – or it all just follows the party line of Nienaber and Erasmus [ii]. The truth is that Nienaber, as you and I have agreed during the past few weeks, is simply not too smart – and he is fearful too of trying anything slightly outside his usual ken.”

For those who don’t follow the sport played and loved by gentlemen, and some robust and lovely ladies, the world over [iii], we’d best take a water break, of which there are far too many these days, while I explain.

Last Saturday evening the Bokke played Ireland – the first match of the 2022 Castle Lager Outgoing Tour (the “Autumn tour”). It was a key match, to put it mildly. The Irish national rugby team has been playing extremely well (an understatement); they’ve thumped the mighty All Blacks more than a couple of times; which is tantamount, for example, to John Steenhuisen beating Cyril Ramaphosa in the forthcoming 2024 presidential election.

In short, at the moment, the Irish clearly have the best rugby team in the world – but so might the French and the New Zealanders. We shall see when we get to next year’s World Rugby Cup (RWC).

However, the Springbok team is not looking too shabby either, at least not on paper, and it’s no secret that our forwards are among the most accomplished bruisers and obsessive “crash ball” players [iv] on the planet.

In other words, many upstanding SA citizens spent last Saturday before the game in a state of tense suspended animation, hoping that the Bokke would indeed “do it” – beat Ireland.

But what did Nienaber, no doubt in consultation with Erasmus, do?

First, he sent his team into the game with the by-now-clearly-outdated “split” of six forwards and two backs on the bench (a team is allowed a maximum of eight substitutes during a game) – so outdated it’s tantamount to Thabo Mbeki standing for the ANC presidency in December [v].

What this meant was that during the course of the game Nienaber could bring on only two backs. Who were these two substitute backs? Scrum-half Faf de Klerk and “utility back” Willie le Roux – who, fortunately, acquitted themselves rather well on Saturday evening [vi].

But, although it had been suggested by Nienaber that, if necessary, one of them could come to the goal-kicking rescue, the bottom line is that neither is a test-level goal-kicker. (De Klerk mostly struggles to get his up-and-unders right.)

Second, the cherry on the top, of course, was that the person chosen as flyhalf (because the two usual Springbok flyhalves are unavailable [vii]) and therefore called upon to do the goal-kicking – Damian Willemse, a pretty good up-and-coming rugby player – simply wasn’t up to scratch; and, as we have just noted, there was no one on the bench who could cover for him.

Besides De Klerk and Le Roux supposedly being able to step in, there was also a lame plan to have Cheslin Kolbe, for some reason played out of position at fullback, also to cover the goal-kicking for Willemse. But this too proved to be a mini-disaster.

To summarise what might seem (to the uninitiated) a convoluted tale, the Springboks went into the Irish game without a test-level goal-kicker. What was it that Danie “Mr Rugby” Craven used to say? “In choosing a Springbok rugby team, I always first choose an ace goal-kicker; the rest of the team members then follow.”

Oh well, old dead white men – what have they ever done for us? Adding insult to injury, by the way, the Boks might have won the game (they lost by three points) had they not “left” seven points out on the field, all missed goal-kicks.

I should note too that Nienaber (and presumably Erasmus) went ahead with their plan notwithstanding just about everyone in the rugby world, from the fellow who collects my garden refuse to his auntie, screaming in the days before the game that Nienaber was being short-sighted, if not blind, to play without a proven goal-kicker against the Irish – or, for that matter, against any international side, including even the Georgians.

But ja, kêrels, you know how it goes, ever since the 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) and the defeat of the touring British & Irish Lions, Erasmus and Nienaber are thought to walk on water.

And if the Bokke do well in the next RWC (and even if they don’t), Rassie will say with his usual shxt-eating grin that necessary preparation for a world cup competition should include trying out unusual strategies in actual games. One should be prepared to study whether Damian Willemse (for example, who doesn’t have a great kicking record) can metamorphosize within 10 minutes into an Emiliano Boffelli, the dead-eye Argentinian goal-kicker, who’s been practicing his kicking every day, including Sundays, for the last decade.

Erasmusian rubbish. The best preparation for the RWC – or any sporting competition – is not to fiddle about with different combinations, outlandish strategies, flow charts, or rocket science. It’s simply to win every single game that you play, full stop, end of story [viii]. The only “future thinking” you need to do is to focus on your very next match, finish en klaar.


But ja, kêrels, you know how it goes (as I said), we Seffricans are so accustomed to disappointment, it is so much a part of the fabric of our daily lives these days, that most of us got up last Sunday morning, thought “WTF,” plotted the next 48 hours of loadshedding on our kitchen charts, and soldiered on.

What we did not expect however from the men in charge of our national rugby – useful idiots that we are – was that Nienaber and Erasmus would do pretty much the same damn thing all over again a week later.

Yes. This coming Saturday night (November 12), the Bokke are set to play the mighty French at 22h00 (SA time) at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseilles.

So what have our two geniuses done? They’ve moved some of the deckchairs around (Kolbe back to wing, Le Roux as fullback, De Klerk back to starting scrum-half, etc.), and they’ve even changed the bench split to 5/3. But what they’ve done about the goalkicking is what’s so interesting.

Having been humiliated by their own tedious stupidity – and having humiliated us too – these two great rugby thinkers, Erasmus and Nienaber, have reached out for a half-decent goal-kicker, Manie Libbok, an 80%-plus kicker in his United Rugby Championship career.

But they’ve put Libbok on the bench (as one of three backs)! What’s Nienaber going to do? Wait for Willemse to miss three kicks? – five kicks? – seven kicks? – and then bring on Libbok? [ix]

And trust me on this: test match rugby these days is all about the penalties. The Boks are not going to cross the French line (and score tries) without huge difficulty; they’ve had sufficient trouble crossing the lines of teams who don’t even defend properly.

And the French are going to push the proverbial limits all over the park, unworried about giving away penalties because they know they can’t be punished – not, at any rate, until Libbok comes on.

What (or rather who) are we dealing with here?

Two people who simply cannot admit to making a mistake and, instead, double down? Two people who never fail to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

What’s that remark attributed to Albert Einstein (even though he was probably thinking about Quantum Theory, not rugby)? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”


Let me make a final point, if I may – one that’s also directed to those who (if they’ve even gotten to this point) wonder why I’m making such a song and dance about a game with an oddly-shaped ball when I could be writing about important matters – such as the ANC elective conference in December or the North West government’s breakthrough move aimed at alleviating challenges faced by rural communities, i.e., spending R780 000 on 20 donkey carts, inclusive of a three-year maintenance plan[x].

What I want to suggest is that there’s nothing in this country that is not touched – or tainted, if you will – by politics and its various offshoots, such as the “culture wars” aimed by the various ethnic groups at the others.

This being the case, cast your mind back to the days before the last RWC (2019), and the attacks levelled in those days at The South African Rugby Union (SARU) and all associated with it.

As I recall, there was a trade union that threatened to demonstrate outside game Y or X, because “black players” weren’t treated well; EFF members (for example) wouldn’t have been found dead at a rugby game; and any number of “black” journalists wrote pieces about the behaviour of the various provincial rugby associations (as well as SARU), claiming that they and their officials and players (predominantly Afrikaners, of course) hadn’t really “transformed” – that black players were still treated shoddily, etc. (Which might have been true, or partially true, or one-eighth true, I don’t know.)

Remember May 2018, when former Springbok Ashwin Willemse walked off the SuperSport set while “providing” live analysis? Willemse said he did so because co-presenters Nick Mallett and Naas “Nasty booter” [as the English used to call him] Botha were being “racist”.

Poor Mallett had (or chose) to go through “an independent enquiry” (which absolved him), during which he had to prove to some learned SC that he didn’t dislike Willemse because of his skin-colour but (presumably) because he was poorly informed and over-prickly. (I, as a viewer, could have vouched for that, but wasn’t called as a witness.)

Remember also the endless and mind-numbing debates about “sports quotas” and “transformation”? Enough to make a grown man (certainly this one) weep into his Shiraz.

But then along came Rassie Erasmus. Now this oke from Despatch in the Eastern Cape had not only been a handy loose forward in his day, but he was shrewd – beaucoup shrewd. So, when he was putting together the Springboks for the WC, he slipped quietly across the Afrikaner Rubicon.

Erasmus appointed a black man (Siya Kolisi) as Springbok captain, even though, truth be told, there were better flanks and team captains then available – and he stuck with Kolisi though thick and thin, and then the Boks won the 2019 RWC with Kolisi at the helm.

It was a stroke of genius from Erasmus. Since then rugby has suddenly become a “national” sport; for years we haven’t heard a peep about quotas, transformation and the evil Dutchmen; on the field, we see the quintessential Afrikaner rugby player, Eben Etzebeth, kissing his black colleagues (on the head, mind); Kolisi, who calls even pesky journos “sir” and “ma’am,” is acknowledged as the international rugby circuit’s most charming interviewee; the main compère on SuperSport is now a black female, and Mallett and the lads treat her like a long-lost chommie; recent ads played on TV during rugby matches feature a black youngster giving a group of oldsters a pep talk; and, although I’m not certain, it’s even possible that Julius Malema watches important rugby matches.

Don’t know about you, but I salute Erasmus (and his handlanger Nienaber) for that achievement – the normalization of rugby. Not so?

But the point I want to make is that it is that achievement that is the reason why the two men are (and should be) considered important. However, that achievement should not be confused with other skills, especially if they don’t have them.

That achievement does not mean the two should be allowed carte blanche to do moronic things – such as sending the Springboks into major rugby tests without a top-level goal kicker.


I’d best be going now, before someone says I sound like a DA housewife.

STOP PRESS: I don’t know precisely when this article will appear on the Politicsweb site. But tonight (Thursday, 10 November), if you have power, the Springbok “A” side, coached by Mzwandile Stick, will play Munster at the Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork at 21:30 (SA time). DsTV channel 211.


[i] As far as I know, the only apparently off-kilter or out-of-culture oddity ever reported about my gorgeous wife was that she inexplicably married a penniless Brakpan ruffian, who was a Semite to boot.

[ii] Then he told me a story about another rugby writer (whom we’ll call Mr. X) who wrote, many years ago, that too many players were “following the party line” – only for Mr. X to be confronted soon after by the legendary Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery, who angrily wanted to know why Mr. X had called him “a party animal”.

Moral of the story: being the highest scoring fullback in the history of international rugby does not necessarily make you au fait with certain English-language idioms. I’m just saying.

[iii] “Rugby is a game for barbarians played by gentlemen. Football is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians.” – Oscar Wilde. Or so the Internet says; why though do I have a feeling it was someone else who said this?

[iv] The “crash ball” is an attacking tactic in terms of which players, generally iron-hard forwards, receive a pass at pace, put their heads down, and charge straight at the opposition’s defensive line (cf. Jasper Wiese), the idea being to make the ball available to teammates by offloading just as they’re being stopped by the opposition.

This tactic, it should be noted, requires scant brain power, imagination, or fancy footwork – and tends not to bear any fruit if the other side also contains a number of bruisers who have been expecting the charge and are moreover adept (like the Irish) at making sure that there is no offload.

[v] Why do Nienaber and Erasmus stick to this “split”? ... Lord knows (and She probably doesn’t either) – but presumably due to nostalgia for the so-called “bomb squad,” the six substitute forwards who, brought onto the field after about 60 minutes, played a major role in winning the 2019 RWC. Problem is that by now all the opposition international teams know all about the so-called bomb squad and prepare accordingly – by, for example, themselves keeping a couple of heavy-duty forwards on the bench for later in the game.

[vi] This was “lucky” because De Klerk can often be a red or yellow card looking for a place to happen, and Le Roux, like the little girl with a curl, can be a very good player but also, for no apparent reason, a simply horrid one. Biorhythms?

[A red card means the player is kicked off the field for the remainder of the game and can also, depending on the severity of his foul play, be banned for the next few weeks. A yellow card equals ten minutes in the “sin bin”. For reasons of player “safety” – remarkably, it has relatively recently been found that serious concussion is not good for your health – yellow and red cards have been handed out like smarties by refs during the last two-three years.]

[vii] Handrè Pollard is injured, Elton Jantjies has been rusticated from the squad for being a lad.

[viii] For the record, by the way, there are numerous other SA kickers who can put a ball between the posts from various places on the field and could thus have been called up to play last Saturday – from Manie Libbok (to whom we’ll return) and Johan Goosen to Chris Smith, Gianni Lombard, Jordan Hendrikse and Boeta Chamberlain.

Heavens to betsy, the coaches could have called on 38-year-old Morné Steyn; he might have come onto the field with his Zimmer frame, but he wouldn’t have missed any kicks.

But Nienaber will never call up people whom he hasn’t previously bossed around for a while or whom he doesn’t like; he says they’re unfamiliar with “the [Springbok] team’s culture”. Jesus wept.

[ix] I have nothing against Willemse, by the way, he’s a potentially fine player. But right now he’s just not a great kicker on the big stage – and the French fans don’t seem to have read (any more than the Seffrican ones have) the message that’s flashed up at Twickenham: “Please respect the kicker”.

[x] What I like about this initiative is that I have a colleague who said to me, when I once entered a rather politically correct journalism competition, “You have as much chance of winning that competition as being bitten by a rabid donkey”. Well, my chances (of being bitten by a rabid donkey) have just increased.

Moreover, this initiative, at a time when we’re battling climate change and looking for “clean” energy, might just push Elon Musk off his perch. Also, I like it that there’s an inclusive maintenance plan – which is presumably for the donkeys as well.

What I don’t like about the initiative is that I suspect the seats in these new donkey carts are on the wrong side of the axles – and that we might therefore end up with a great many donkeys with broken backs. This would be, needless to say, extremely cruel. I shall be conferring soon with a friendly engineer.