Boks on Tour
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Boks must show some fluency
Edinburgh – Saturday at Murrayfield here would be an ideal time for the Springboks to remind the rugby world that they are capable of doing more than crashing and bashing their way to dogged victories.
That may sound a little cruel, with the Grand Slam dream halfway to realisation and by a weakened squad, but the respective victories over Ireland and Wales were both nail-biters and marked more by great South African resilience and physical relish than any special, consistent attacking wizardry.
Indeed, at the Millennium Stadium last weekend the Boks positively butchered a few wonderful try-scoring opportunities when these did present themselves, leading some neutral commentators to suspect they are particularly vulnerable to surrendering their World Cup crown in New Zealand next year.
There were some four-on-three and three-on-two situations, for instance, when tries seemed emphatically on against the Welsh, yet were clumsily botched as general rhythm and telepathy among Bok backline players went AWOL -- some instances of dreadful passing technique and option-taking hardly helped, either.
Whatever the forecasts may suggest, this is fickle Scotland where you might get four seasons in one day – and usually not very much of a summer component, of course – so whether match-day conditions will suit decent spreading of the ball through hands remains to be seen.
At least it is a daytime match against the Scots, with the potential that offers for warmer and more willing hands and fingers if the pitch stays reasonably dry.
Last week the All Blacks had to play under lights here, and yet they gave a veritable master-class in slick three-quarter play during the 49-3 walloping, marked by simplicity and smoothness of passing at an awesomely high tempo and with new “union” capture Sonny Bill Williams so often a key string-puller.
Bewildered Scotland were simply run off their feet, and had conceded the imaginary “bonus-point try” by as ludicrously early as the 27th minute.
In that breathtaking period, barely a hand was laid on players who received the final pass and duly touched down, such was the flow and charisma to the raids.
Thereafter the All Blacks went into cruise control, though didn’t surrender too much fleet-footed lustre as they gradually substituted senior players to cocoon them for challenges ahead.
Now, in a city that still shudders at the painful memory of a certain 10-68 scoreline in the early Nick Mallett coaching tenure, can the Boks produce a slightly overdue new charm offensive themselves?
You would like to think so, especially if the largely settled Springbok pack – the tight five wholly unchanged again – can gain an early choke-hold and maintain it, allowing front-foot possibilities to exciting runners like Gio Aplon and debutant Lwazi Mvovo, who could just turn into a surprise package of the nastiest kind to the Scots if the Boks have a broad spirit of adventure.
We know from Super 14 experience, of course, that the better South African sides are capable of running even the best-calibre Antipodean opponents ragged if they are really up for it ... so why should the Boks not be capable of such artistry against one of the traditionally weaker Six Nations outfits?
Generally, the composition of the latest Springbok side hints at a desire by Peter de Villiers and company to see some “racehorse” endeavour at Murrayfield rather than just pack-mule graft.
Ryan Kankowski at No 8 (he offers a slightly different form of explosiveness to in-form Pierre Spies, of course) and quicksilver Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf seems a good enough start if that is indeed the intention.
There are critics who cannot be blamed for lamenting that precocious Pat Lambie hasn’t been offered a tantalising start at No 10 for this one, although Morne Steyn did show some signs against Wales of preparedness to “mix up” his game a bit once more, I thought.
The Bulls flyhalf had demonstrated some delightful attacking touches during the early part of his franchise’s successful Super 14 campaign much earlier this year, but then seemed to go strangely sterile and predictable for a few months, even as his amazing place-kicking efficiency remained a stay-out-of-jail card.
Then there is the Bok midfield: are there others who share my creeping fear that Jean de Villiers at 12 (for all his proven class) and Frans Steyn in jersey 13, even in admittedly very fledgling days as a combo, somehow don’t quite gel as a go-forward force?
This is their chance to prove any doubters wrong. It would be a handy opportunity for either or each player to sparkle over 80 minutes, given that Juan de Jongh and Jaque Fourie are absentees from this tour whose stocks may actually quietly benefit if the Boks continue to struggle for true verve at centre at Murrayfield and then Twickenham.
There is a lot at stake for Zane Kirchner, too, questionably returned to his favoured fullback position for the challenge of the Scots – he must assure us there are greater subtleties to his attacking armoury than the monotonous hoof-and-chase.
Yes, if howling winds and lashing rain stay away – and for the record they are supposed to -- from this scenic and vibrant metropolis on Saturday, some sexed-up Springbok rugby would be welcome and timely.