While the first post-isolation Springbok team didn’t lose Test matches by 77-point margins, Peter de Villiers believes his Eastern Province charges will experience the same teething problems as the local game did in the 1990s and early 2000s.
It’s a somewhat crude if valid comparison to make as hindsight proved in the past that South Africa’s exclusion from international rugby had the knock-on effect of making the sport adapt slower to the demands of professionalism.
Following the liquidation of the Southern Kings last year, the professional game in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) has been left in ruins, leaving De Villiers with a major rebuilding mission.
“A lot of things will need to change,” said the former Springbok coach after the Elephants were hammered 87-10 by the Bulls in their opening match of the preparation series.
“It reminds me of when we came back from isolation all those years back and re-entered world rugby, how it took time for us to get to grips with the speed and intensity of the game and all those kind of things.
“Eastern Province rugby has been kept out of the professional game for a long time. To bring these club players together and have them play for the first time in almost a year-and-a-half against the Bulls was always going to be tough.”
The margin of defeat is substantial enough to call into question the overall state of the game in the region, not just its flagship team.
“A lot of things will need to change in Eastern Province itself. But for me to talk about things outside the team and union is not advisable. It won’t help one bit,” said De Villiers.
“We’ll have to go back and talk to the people on the inside and together find solutions that will make this team more professional, so that the players can start building viable careers.”
For now, De Villiers’ immediate attention is merely moulding a unit that can deliver respectable performances and is encouraged by the fact that he now has a clearer idea of what work-ons are required.
“I thought we actually scrummed pretty well, but we lost too many balls that robbed us of the opportunity to show people what we’re about,” he said.
“This game was harsh, but a great learning curve too. We know now what we need to improve on and what’s required at this level to stand up as a team.
“There are a helluva lot of things to work on and the good thing is that we know now.”