Cape Town – In the magical afterglow of a rare Springbok
victory in New Zealand, perspective can get just a little mislaid in the post.
Why not, too? South Africans are entitled to let their hair
down a bit and simply revel in the “here and now” … as so clearly happened
following spine-tingling events in Wellington on Saturday.
The 36-34 result was a momentous one and, when all is said
and done, the marvellously defiant - though sprightly and clinical on their
occasional attacking forays, too - Boks did deserve this scalp by the
Yet considering the vast lop-sidedness of the match stats,
especially in terms of All Blacks possession and territorial mastery, a great
many of the more temperate judges in our country will also know that a repeat
of such circumstances would almost certainly see the world champions come out
on top nine times out of ten.
Or even 19 out of 20?
We do need to remember that the Boks didn’t actually
dominate this Test match in manufacturing the triumph … not by a long shot.
If they’d hypothetically played again on Sunday, with
exactly the same starting line-ups and substitutes, I know where I’d have very
firmly placed my money, and regrettably it wouldn’t have been on Siya Kolisi’s no
doubt universally spent troops from a physical point of view.
The New Zealanders (loose and sloppy at times, arguably to
the borders of blasé arrogance) so clearly ended the “Cake Tin” clash with
immeasurably greater levels of fuel left in their tanks. Revenge might well
have been swift and merciless - and that remains a far from unlikely scenario
at Loftus on October 6, come to think of it.
Victorious head coach Rassie Erasmus was reportedly under no
illusions about the All Blacks’ ongoing superior general status, despite the shock
score-line, at Saturday’s after-match press conference. (My only observation is
that maybe he laid it on just a little thicker than was justified, even if he
was somehow being strategic considering bigger pictures ahead.)
But the fact remains that the quite strongly youth-themed Boks,
about whom we can nevertheless feel so much better in developmental terms now,
almost undoubtedly will need considerably better field-position traction, plus
more “time on the ball”, in upcoming bilateral encounters – including in a pool
crunch at the World Cup next year – and against other strong foes if they are
to redevelop a consistently victorious habit.
Grimly defending your own quarter as doggedly and repeatedly
as the Boks did on Saturday is just not sustainable week in and week out: the
educated, diligent Erasmus is highly unlikely to overlook that in his ongoing
That will probably also mean, even if this may sound an
unpopular theory to some at this immediate point, the Boks shoring up (or read
more bluntly: improving) certain positions in their starting XV.
On the plus side, they are building some beautiful depth in
certain areas, and most notably in a pack context.
The front row as a whole is already a competitive area, with
a mighty scrap between Steven Kitshoff and Tendai Mtawarira for rights to
premier loosehead prop mantle; Kitshoff is deservedly the man in possession now
but I suspect there will still be a fair bit of rotation between them as
starters, and that can’t be bad at all.
Tighthead, where Frans Malherbe is determinedly cementing
his berth and Wilco Louw seemingly rejuvenated as well, is also not exactly a
barren area: there’s those large specimens Thomas du Toit, Trevor Nyakane and
(soon) Coenie Oosthuizen in the picture and why would you not wish to
contemplate the credentials of Saracens’ Vincent Koch, either?
Meanwhile lock resources will be especially bulging in the
next few weeks - if they aren’t already - when Lood de Jager returns to
fitness to join the Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman-staffed party.
For all his meteoric rise and rise as a blindside flank, the
tireless Wellington star Pieter-Steph du Toit also still stays very much in the
picture, you’d think, for the second row; he has genuinely become a modern
Danie Rossouw for enormous usefulness in versatility terms and a “must pick”
for the XV at present, regardless of specific area of responsibility.
With him making such strides as a No 7, the temptation may
be huge for Erasmus to increase the tonnage of the loose-forward arsenal
further when Duane Vermeulen - enormous in the England series win - becomes
As superb (a welcome development) as Warren Whiteley was at
No 8 on Saturday, a fit Vermeulen still deserves to be branded top choice in
that jersey and exactly the kind of grunt-laden additional forward the Boks
will need if they are to spend more generous periods of major games, as they
need to, on the front foot.
Ulster dynamo Marcell Coetzee (an option at all of six,
seven and eight) could also soon enough be hammering the door down anew for
squad selection, especially as he gets regular exposure on SA television
screens through the PRO14.
Behind the scrum, admittedly the picture is a bit more
blurry for the Boks.
There is still the vexing matter of next cab off rank to the
still flawed, but amazingly indefatigable Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf and, with
several locally-based No 9s getting little exposure from the coach so far, I do
just wonder whether 10-cap Cobus Reinach of Northampton might wriggle back into
contention well ahead of RWC 2019 in Japan.
Issues at flyhalf suddenly looked a lot less acute on
Saturday when Handre Pollard, up front, and then Elton Jantjies off the bench
for 32 minutes both excelled … including, educatively, together, once Pollard
shifted very seamlessly indeed to inside centre.
That means Pollard might begin pushing Damian de Allende
(albeit also an individual back on the up) hard for the No 12 rights, while
Montpellier’s Jan Serfontein, victim of a lengthy side-lining recently, is
still only 25 and could press for either midfield berth - the outside channel
is still fairly up for grabs.
Young Aphiwe Dyantyi’s elusive exploits as an attacking
force - evident again through a brace of tries in the Cake Tin -- only indicate
just how fast now the Boks are regrouping, under Erasmus’s charge, in
back-three terms, a broad area where predecessor Allister Coetzee frankly
Dyantyi still has some largely alignment-related rough edges
defensively, but he lacks nothing in heart and effort and those are qualities
that should help him progressively eliminate those snags as his Test career
Once S’bu Nkosi is ready to rejoin the wing queue and,
similarly, Warrick Gelant returns to action to keep Willie le Roux on his toes
at fullback, the Boks will be in a position to just start believing they can
sport roughly a party of 30 – as opposed
to just a XV or match-day 23 – capable of being hugely bothersome to New
Zealand on a more regular basis again …
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