Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – So dinosaurs can dance!
The Springboks have suddenly bared their teeth at the World
Cup, the defending champions reminding the planet that even some of their older
pairs of legs still have plenty of gusto left in them.
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South Africa served up a feast in Wellington on Saturday, overcoming
Fiji by six tries to nil for an emphatic outcome many of us, let’s face it, had
considered fairly unlikely after the tepid disposal of Wales and an unfortunate
lead-up winter to RWC 2011 as well.
Perhaps we should get the tempering stuff out of the way
first, and quickly: the Boks were playing a side ranked 12 places below them on
the IRB ladder so maybe 49-3 was what they should have been looking for anyway.
But the international rugby arena seems to be getting more
broadly competitive, especially judging by some early results at this
tournament, and the truth is that no side could have seriously eclipsed the
Springbok performance against foes who never ran up a white flag – the Fijians
were certainly going toe to toe with John Smit’s troops in the first quarter of
an enthralling game which was deadlocked 3-3 right on the 20-minute mark.
I mention the name of Smit because it is fitting to do so: I
remain among those who believe Bismarck du Plessis should start the bigger
World Cup games at hooker, but credit must also go where it is due; the big old
bulldozer played his part as much as anyone in this encouragingly expressive –
an overdue phenomenon -- Bok display.
Smit had probably as good a 54 minutes at No 2 as he has had
for a while, and his presence in a brawny, even more heavyweight than usual Bok
tight five helped lay some awesome foundations for this increasingly
The enforced absence of second row athlete Victor Matfield
meant Bakkies Botha was paired with Danie Rossouw and this only added prime
beef to the boiler room at scrum-time, which was as key a springboard to the
Bok win as any other.
Now here’s a tricky little question: should lineout master
Matfield’s return to the starting fray when ready to do so really be considered
a fait accompli?
Rossouw, after all, had arguably the best game of his long
Test life in all respects in Matfield’s No 5 shirt, and I felt he was an
eminently sensible choice as man of the match, not just for doing his
donkeywork with customary willingness but being an absolute demon as a
And speaking of seasoned Springbok warriors trying to snatch
their places back, how is Jean de Villiers, that poor fellow with a World Cup
hoodoo, going to displace Frans Steyn at inside centre now?
Steyn gave the Bok backline as a whole a notable rebirth in
thrust and purpose with his decision-making, personal determination to make
yardage and use of his great physical attributes in both a defensive and
Indeed, you have to credit the Bok brains trust for bringing
Steyn much closer to the action for the Fiji fixture; I had felt that his
solidity at fullback against Wales was reasonable grounds to keep him there for
the second RWC assignment.
But commentator Matthew Pearce so rightly observed the
“relish” with which the Racing Metro player took to his string-pulling role,
whilst Patrick Lambie was just another element of the tactical reshuffle to
look extremely convincing, filling his shoes in the last line of defence.
Hello, and was that Morne Steyn, the perceived place-kicking
dullard, popping refreshingly out of the proverbial pocket, taking gaps,
varying his approach with some deft little touches and even getting over the
Other aspects of the Bok selection that had raised some
eyebrows, like Odwa Ndungane’s installation at wing, came up trumps: the Sharks
man is no out-and-out speed merchant but he was as competent as anyone in the
process of South Africa first doing the essential “subduing” and sticking to basics
before they added the penetration factor to their equation in a major way.
It was a good move, too, as the Fijian resolve and stamina was
gradually squeezed out of them, to replace Ndungane with that versatile,
electric little eel off the bench, Francois Hougaard, who asked questions and
then still more questions of the underdogs’ defence.
The fluidity and vibrancy of the Bok showing was picked up
on by some New Zealand pundits during the second half, with former All Blacks
scrumhalf Justin Marshall encapsulating their significant admiration: “The Boks
have been clinical, ruthless and accurate in everything they’ve done.”
Make no mistake, plenty of bone-jarring, sweaty commitment
was still required to mastermind this fine display, and a few eternally abrasive
and industrious characters like Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brussow could
probably do with some “feet up” time as the less menacing hurdle, with respect,
of Namibia looms next for the buoyant Boks …