Rugby Championship

Something’s brewing for Boks

2015-07-26 13:49
Springboks v All Blacks (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Examination of the Castle Rugby Championship table with just one round to go hardly suggests the Springboks may be inching spiritedly toward a prosperous new era.

South Africa lie third, winless, and already out of the running: when they tackle Argentina in Durban in just under a fortnight it will simply be a battle to avoid the wooden spoon as the Wallabies and All Blacks slug it out for title glory a few hours earlier in Sydney.

Fortunately it had been widely accepted by the most astute of rugby observers before the 2015 tournament even began that its bragging rights are of secondary importance this year, given the scheduling just a few weeks shy of the eighth World Cup in the United Kingdom.

Local enthusiasts prepared to prioritise the bigger picture will also be fully aware that the Boks could so easily be lying at the top of the Championship pile right now, as they bossed Australia for 50 minutes in Brisbane and then New Zealand for considerably closer to 70 in Johannesburg on Saturday.

If rugby is a game of inches, then Tevita Kuridrani’s debated, last-gasp try made the critical difference two weeks back and Lood de Jager not being able to stretch his lunging arm just a couple of centimetres further against the All Blacks for a 55th-minute Bok touchdown possibly denied them in the latest instance.

In the final analysis, lack of composure and one or two errors in tactical decision-making at vital times by a rookie-laden team thwarted them more than anything else on Saturday - it was not as though the Boks looked light years behind for pure competence and skill in either instance, and that is a firm plus to bank in the run-up to the RWC.

Perhaps also, a cranked-up emphasis on conditioning and durability will work wonders over the next couple of months as Heyneke Meyer’s charges get progressively used to the new ball-in-hand culture they are embracing with some gusto and swelling promise.

It is worth bearing in mind, too, that they still have ample time to fine-tune ideas and formulas ahead of the all-important knockout phase of the World Cup, with successive Tests against Argentina (one in the Championship) and then the relatively stress-free - hopefully - RWC group games against Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.

Personally, I trust what the coach is trying to do with his current resources - even if Naas Botha may have had a point in the SuperSport studio on Saturday night when he rued the new, more enterprising formula not having taken firmer root two years ago, which might have made the Boks look that key bit more settled, polished and confident for this World Cup.

Critics of this template may still try to contend that the best Springbok route to eclipsing Richie McCaw’s ongoing global dominators is by frustrating them through murderous, unsubtle physical commitment, ox-like carriers and unrelenting, all-hands-to-the-pump defence.

But rugby moves on and that approach only looks increasingly archaic and, frankly, unsustainable from one week to another in a major tournament because of the immense bodily and mental sacrifices it requires.

Yes, every now and then the Boks win a red-letter clash via those hallmarks, but they have also had a great many depressing, video nasties using that approach against New Zealand in the professional era when they have been exposed as dinosaurs for ambition.

At least after Saturday’s nail-biter you got a sense of a Bok team in the throes of evolution, and could feel gladdened by some of the zesty, fleet-footed raids on the All Black defence that gave the visitors headaches aplenty.

That is not to say that the Springboks shouldn’t vitally temper their game-plan at times, taking points (off the tee) when they are on offer and winding down their tempo with a tighter approach every now and then to take the frantic nature out of their attack and give certain hard-pressed troops a mini-breather.

As evidenced by the grunt from the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Schalk Burger on Saturday, the Boks can still make notable gains the more “direct” way, to balance the exuberance of their expanding youth brigade in wider positions on the park.

An impediment on another day when South Africa ticked many boxes despite a defeat was the very limited effectiveness, broadly speaking, of their bench resources.

Yet this seems sure to change anyway when they re-infuse such steely, proven characters as Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn and others to their match-day mix, whether it is as starters or wise, calming old heads as substitutes in certain instances.

Let’s acknowledge one thing: the All Blacks silencing a full house at Emirates Airline Park, even with an experimental combo and given their back-foot status for significant portions of the match, helps confirm this cerebral, classy side as reasonably firm favourites for World Cup retention fairly shortly.

But we already knew that, didn’t we?

The Boks looking like transformational, potentially dangerous party-spoilers at RWC is no bad thing at this bend in the road.

Panic stations? Ridiculous ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby championship  |  rugby

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