Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, gets déjà vu looking at South African rugby and says Happy Birthday to a legend.
Before kick-off at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday there were two games on the goggle boxes and laptops in the press room. One was confirming what we already knew, which is that Exeter are going to tough to shift as champions, and the other was confirming that a once powerful rugby nation is going down the swanny.
We have been down this road before and we make no apologies for going down it again.
After South Africa had lost 24-22 to Wales in Cardiff we saw part of the reason why when we trooped up to the hacks’ seats to watch Wasps beat Leicester 32-25 in one of the best games of the season.
This time last year we wrote about the review South Africa was having into the Springbok results in 2016 and we can feel another one coming on.
We also wrote that being Springbok head coach was a harder gig than the one Theresa May had landed in trying to sort out Brexit. How is that all going?
The stand-out performer in Coventry was a 26-year-old No.8 called Nizaam Carr who is errrr…..South African. Other stand-out performers were Willie le Roux, Juan de Jongh and Ashley Johnson, also of Wasps, and also South Africans.
When we headed to the Stoop on Sunday, for another candidate for game of the season, where Harlequins beat Saracens 20-19 the Boks were in full war paint from the start.
Saracens prop Vincent Kock, nine caps for the Boks, made a burst in the second minute, passed to the thoroughly English Jamie George and the hooker made the try for Brad Barritt, who was born in Durban but played for England.
Schalk Burger, a legend of the South African game, came off the bench for Saracens, who also have Schalk Brits on their books and Quins gave a debut to flanker Renaldo Bothma, who was born in South Africa but plays Test rugby for Namibia.
At the start of this season there were 32 capped Springboks registered to play for European clubs in the Champions and Challenge Cups. And you wonder why the Bok head coach Allister Coetzee has a barnet that is starting to turn white.
It also makes you wonder why a bloke as shrewd as Rassie Erasmus would want to take up a job like being South Africa’s director of rugby. The press down there are reporting that Erasmus wants to have a more hands on role with the national team than his title would suggest. We would suggest he shouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
Erasmus probably felt compelled to leave Munster by a sense of duty and the best of British to him. He has done the job before so he should know what he has let himself in for but the Boks have bigger problems than they did 18 months ago.
It is estimated there are more than 300 South Africans playing professional rugby outside of their own country and Coetzee can’t pick most of them. He can only select players who are not playing in Bok Land if they have 30 caps or more.
Fine for the likes of Francois Louw of Bath, who has 57 caps, or Duane Vermeulen of Toulon, who is on the 39 mark, as long as the games are in the international window. But it is not too flash for the likes of De Jongh, the Wasps centre, who has played 19 times in the green and gold and is off limits for Coetzee.
There is talk of scrapping this rule as well and for the South Africans that can’t come soon enough.
Chuck in the South Africans who have taken advantage of the ludicrous three-year residency ruling to play for other countries and Coetzee is bang up against it.
Even an alchemist like Eddie Jones would struggle with that.
Coetzee’s job is on the line apparently, one South African paper reported he will be out on his ear this week, but how can a head coach cope with a player drain like that. It is not just the seasoned internationals but also the ones who go chasing the euros before they get capped and slip off the radar.
With the exchange rate the way it is you can’t blame them but you can’t blame Coetzee for feeling like he has got one hand tied behind his back. Then there is the quota system so that is two hands tied behind his back.
But he is going to be judged by results and this year they are not pretty. South Africa have played 13 Test matches in the past 12 months and on the face of it the ledger does not look too bad. It reads played 13, won seven, drawn two and lost four. That makes, by our reckoning, a win percentage of just under 54 per cent.
Which is bad luck if you have like Coetzee, as has been reported, a 65 per cent win ratio stipulated in your contract.
It gets worse.
Yep, they ran the All Blacks to a point in October and drew twice with the Wallabies but the Aussies result against Scotland puts that one into perspective.
They beat a rabble of a French side 3-0 in the summer, and have knocked over Argentina home and away, Italy and France again in Paris, by a solitary point, this autumn.
But the Boks have also been smashed 57-0 by New Zealand and rolled over against Ireland, 38-3, in Dublin. And, down Cape Town way, they are baying for blood.
This is a team that got to the World Cup semi-finals in 2015, won the whole shooting match in 1995 and 2007 and gave us players like Danie Gerber, Frik du Preez and Joost van der Westhuizen.
It is also a country where a significant lump of the population are nuts about rugby as England fans will find out on their summer tour there next June.
Whether England will be playing against a team coached by Allister Coetzee is not certain. Whether they will be playing against a team who are any good is also not certain but the Bok fans certainly won’t stand for this for much longer.
Browsing the birthday section of The Times this weekend we noticed that someone called Cameron Michael Henderson Gibson MBE turned 75 on Sunday.
To rugby fans there will always only be one Mike Gibson.
His stats are impressive enough – 69 caps for Ireland, five tours and 12 Tests for the British & Irish Lions and, one for trivia buffs, he was the first replacement in international rugby when he came on for the Lions against South Africa in Pretoria in 1968.
But the play is even more impressive than the numbers. Younger readers should have a look at YouTube and take a peek – this bloke could really do the business.
When the subject of the greatest Irish back of all time comes up there are only three blokes who get mentioned. They are the great Jack Kyle, fly-half in the 1948 Grand Slam-winning side, Brian O’Driscoll, he of 141 Test caps and Gibson.
A rough poll, conducted on the back of a fag packet, has them about equal but people’s preferences usually depend on their age.
Gibson could play at fly-half or in the centre. On the 1971 Lions tour to New Zealand he was picked as a fly-half but played the Test matches as a centre, which did for John Spencer’s hopes of playing against the All Blacks, and we all know what happened then.
That 1971 team was packed with stars, JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards, John, John Dawes, David Duckham, Gibson and the rest of them, and won the series 2-1 with one Test drawn.
It probably need a Kiwi to sort the wheat from the chaff out of that little lot and Colin Meads, then the All Black captain, did precisely that.
“Gibson’s presence in the Lions back-line was the most frustrating influence of all,” Mead said.
Gibson worked as a solicitor. On the pitch he was a law unto himself.