Bulls title defence on track
The Bulls have once again seized the initiative from the Stormers and Sharks as they head into the final weekend of Super Rugby.
This display of mental toughness “under fire” against a team that all but overwhelmed them in all facets of the game barely 10 weeks ago, epitomises the Bulls’ success in Super Rugby.
Their return into contention for their third consecutive Super Rugby title is as remarkable as the winning of the first two titles in 2009 and 2010!
While the very slim winning margin can be ascribed to an inexplicable slump in form by the Stormers on the one hand and the masterful hand of Victor Matfield on the other, it still required meticulous execution and loads of patience and discipline to outlast the Stormers on Saturday.
It was indeed worrying to see seasoned performers, many of whom who will go to the RWC, wane and totter when it mattered the most.
Players like Gio Aplon, Bryan Habana, Ricky Januarie, Andries Bekker and Tiaan Liebenberg did not rise to the level that the occasion required - they succumbed to the pressure.
The Bulls, on the other hand, were cool and calm and executed their game plan to perfection under the astute direction of Victor Matfield, who despite the absence of Bakkies Botha and Fourie du Preez, led his team with proficiency.
Outstanding performances by Francois Hougaard (who displayed his tactical kicking skills on more than one occasion), Morné Steyn, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies, Werner Kruger, Bjorn Basson and to a certain extent, Wynand Olivier, have strengthened the arguments for their inclusion into the final RWC squad.
The Springbok selectors are spoiled for choice when it comes to scrumhalves, No 8s, flanks, locks, flyhalves and centres, an ideal position to be in ahead of the RWC.
The main selection challenge will be to get the combinations right and to ensure that the team is mentally ready when they team up against the Welsh, Irish, Wallabies and All Blacks.
This time around the Springboks will most probably have to beat either the All Blacks or Wallabies to win the RWC - there will be no easy ride as in 2007 in France.
They will have to be at their very best from the outset as teams like Wales and Samoa have improved their professional structures significantly since 2007 and beating them is no longer just a formality, but will require focus and 100% preparedness.
That is why the return to form of the Bulls and especially stalwarts like Matfield, Steyn, Spies and Du Preez has been critical in gauging the chances of the Springboks as a team.
Just by weighing up the comments from the top rugby scribes it seems that there is general consensus that coach Peter de Villiers has got it right with his squad selections and that as things presently stand, the strongest possible Springbok team will contest the RWC in September.
This does not happen often in rugby and it is ironic that it should happen under the reign of De Villiers who has attracted a fair share of criticism for his selection choices since his appointment as Springbok coach.
De Villiers’s Springboks are on the verge of achieving yet another milestone: they can be the first country to successfully defend their RWC title as well as the first country to win three RWC titles.
The recent performances of the Stormers, Cheetahs and Lions in New Zealand are proof that South African teams can win over there.
Given the occasion, there is certainly no reason why the Springboks cannot retain the Webb Ellis Cup on October 23, 2011.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.
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