Boks in UK

Tour confirmed Boks’ progress

2013-11-24 21:54
Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Morné Steyn (AFP)
Cape Town – Another European tour, another 100 percent record.

As it happened: France v SA

GALLERY: Boks win at Stade Francoise

South Africa, surely quite undisputed now as second best rugby power on Earth and slowly making advances on supreme New Zealand as well, thoroughly deserve their summer holiday.

It was the second time on the trot that the Springboks have secured three wins out of three on their traditional year-end pilgrimage to the northern hemisphere, a nice feather in the cap of coach Heyneke Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers in particular.

Just achieving that sort of clean-up simply cannot be under-appreciated, before you even begin to examine the calibre of the various performances.

A blinkered theory by critics in those climes, sometimes, is that the travelling sides from the other side of the Equator are advantaged by playing opponents who are not yet properly battle-hardened at Test level in their own season.

A forceful counter to that argument would be that the SANZAR “big three” are even more vulnerable to fatigue after some 10 months of merciless slog in their closer-to-home environments.

By all accounts it takes immense mental fortitude, as well as physical and tactical mettle, to consistently be able to see off the Six Nations bunch at bleak, frigid year’s end and – certainly this time – on laughably sub-standard playing surfaces even at supposedly prestigious stadiums.

It is something the International Rugby Board needs to look at urgently (the SANZAR powers must also make their feelings very clear) ahead of the 2015 World Cup in England and Wales, even if that tournament will come in slightly more autumnal than outright wintry conditions.

So it is a shame in some ways that the Boks of both 2012 and 2013 were not having a crack at the coveted Grand Slam; we have seen more than enough evidence to suggest they’d have given it a mighty go.

What was really pleasing about this year’s trek north was how much more accomplished South Africa were in achieving each of the trio of victories: there was clear daylight (if that is the right word for the time of year in Europe) every time, as opposed to the 2012 itinerary when the Boks largely took a dour, conservative route to nail-bitingly narrow triumphs.

This time Scotland, for instance, were well buried even before halftime at Murrayfield – maybe the Boks stepped off the pedal in the second period, conscious of the six-day turnaround to France – while the tour-ending and pleasingly drought-breaking success in Paris on Saturday night was more convincing, I am absolutely adamant, than the 19-10 scoreboard suggests.

If you wanted to excessively milk the point, you could argue that there was possibly a “21-point swing” that worked against the Boks in terms of television match official calls.

The inconvenient and barely deserved French try just before halftime contained healthy elements of doubt, whilst South Africa had similarly borderline touchdowns denied to Jaque Fourie and Francois Louw after repeated replays.

Yet still the Boks prevailed by nine points, and despite a highly passionate – if not necessarily polished – showing by their hosts.

On this tour as a whole, SA showed far greater panache and unpredictability than they did at roughly the same time last year, crossing the whitewash in champagne fashion at times and mixing up their play near-seamlessly when the mood grabbed them.

As is so often the requirement on the heavy European pitches, the template for Bok success remained primarily based around utterly uncompromising forward play: if anything, the packs they put out this time eclipsed last year’s over the same period for efficiency – except maybe at the erratic lineout? – and unity of purpose.

As had been the case for much this international season anyway, Meyer continued in Europe to pick his teams primarily with good science and clarity, succeeding both in keeping incumbents suitably on their toes and ensuring real hunger among substitutes – a trend evidenced in Saturday’s victory by the massive lustre, for varying periods of involvement, of such customers as Bakkies Botha, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

On that note, he is also getting the tricky balance right between engaging very senior, often overseas-based personnel for his needs, while not abandoning long-term vision by seeing to it that callow members of the squad get the sort of judicious exposure that will steel them considerably for two years up the drag.    

If you had to ask me to mark Meyer for the Springboks’ 2013 season, I’d venture around 77 or 78 percent (B-plus, if you prefer that parlance), a figure that would have snuck into “A” territory had just one triumph over the All Blacks been secured.

It remains the one elusive area for the coach after four attempts in two years, but the way he has progressively, determinedly ticked boxes against other opponents suggests that sooner or later this void, too, will be filled.

Less than two years out from RWC 2015, the South African plan is coming together very nicely, whatever you may personally think about how big or how small the gap to the All Blacks truly is right now ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  boks on tour  |  rugby

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