Why the Proteas don’t win World Cups and the Springboks do

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

EVERY four years, the Proteas don’t win the World Cup. Every so often, the Springboks do win the World Cup. Discuss.

“That’s a long conversation,” sports psychologist Henning Gericke, the Boks’ ‘kopdokter’ at the 2007 World Cup and the Proteas’ shrink at the 2011 World Cup, said.

“In 1995, there was expectation on the Springboks even though they were the underdogs, certainly in the final (against New Zealand),” he said. “But they won it and that set the tone.”

It also got the monkey off the Boks’ backs at the first opportunity. Three years earlier, their cricket counterparts had felt the sting of their first World Cup disappointment.

The Boks won again in 2007 while the Proteas, despite having had two additional tournaments to break their duck, are still trophyless. Ignore the numbers and look inside the players’ heads, Gericke said.

“You can’t compare the pressure faced by the cricketers with the pressure faced by the Boks. They are like the All Blacks, the chokers of rugby – often the best team in the world but not the World Cup winners.

“What happened, for instance, with Allan Donald and Lance Klusener in 1999 (when a clumsy runout put SA out of the running) only adds to the pressure.

“There is massive expectation on them, and they want it so badly. You could see that in the way (captain) AB (de Villiers) was running around during this year’s semi-final (against New Zealand). It didn’t look like there was clear direction out there.”

History played a role in that sense, too.

“Like (former captains) Hansie Cronje and Graeme Smith, AB takes all of the responsibility onto himself. It’s not a shared leadership among the senior players in the same way it is in the Springbok team.”

The Boks have lost only four of their 29 World Cup matches: a winning percentage of 86.21. The Proteas sit at 63.34% with 35 victories from 55 games. Gericke said that contest was unfair.

“It’s tougher to win a cricket than a rugby World Cup because so much can go wrong for a cricket team.

“In rugby, you can play conservatively and still win. In cricket, you have to go out there and take the game away from your opponents.”

For former Springbok captain and No. 8 Gary Teichmann, the key lay in the differing cultures of the two sports.

“In rugby, you are not as exposed as an individual as you are in cricket,” Teichmann said.

For example, Teichmann didn’t say, dropped catch can haunt a fielder all innings long. But the memory of a knock-on usually melts soon after the resultant scrum.

“Also, in rugby, the top two or three teams win consistently,” Teichmann said. “In one-day cricket, the pecking order can change quickly. That’s why they have series of matches. But, in a knockout situation, all that changes.”

Another former Bok captain and No. 8, Morne du Plessis, didn’t put much stock in the P-word argument: “I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the Proteas’ ability to withstand the pressure; I think it’s circumstantial.

“Look at the All Blacks. They won the first World Cup (in 1987) and it took them so many years to do it again (in 2011). And they were lucky.”

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