Rugby Championship

Courage, unity give Boks sniff in NZ

2017-09-11 12:36
Coenie Oosthuizen (Getty)

Cape Town - Big Coenie Oosthuizen summed up the generally resurgent state of Springbok rugby on Saturday ... an upward trend that gives the tourists at least a chance of toppling the All Blacks on their own terrain for the first time in eight years this weekend (Albany, 09:35 SA time).

At the outset of the eventually drawn Rugby Championship clash with Australia in Perth, the beefy tighthead prop experienced a few technical hiccups at scrum-time - albeit that the Walllabies got up to some devious disruptive tricks - and fresh murmurs almost inevitably began on social media about this re-treaded No 1’s supposed unsuitability to the tighthead berth.

But then things only got progressively better and better in all respects for the Sharks man, as he ended up with bags of honour for his contribution to the fightback for a share of the spoils, preserving the Boks’  unbeaten (now six-match) record in 2017.

Not only did the Bok pack gradually establish dominance at the set-piece, with Oosthuizen keeping a suitably straight bodily angle as the anchor, but his tackle count was immense for a heavyweight front-ranker.

But in the best statement of valour, the 28-year-old, substituted in the 70th minute after an industrious shift and with an injured right forearm - later established to have been broken - also so willingly returned to the pitch in the critical dying minutes following the facial gash suffered by reserve Trevor Nyakane, and performed as if there was no impediment to him at all.

When the teams shook hands at the finish, it was noticeable that Oosthuizen offered his left one each time, indicating how damaged his right arm really was despite his courage at the death.

Bear in mind also that the revitalised, better-conditioned prop was once supposedly at risk of premature retirement after a complex series of neck issues, and advised that scrumming on his once-preferred loose-head side was no longer a wise idea.

Somehow his current levels of relish and fierce desire to prove doubters wrong symbolise so much of what the Boks of 2017 are about; a never-say-die bunch with a unity of purpose that is the complete opposite to their often embarrassing lethargy and broad sense of sheer cluelessness of a year earlier.

The hunger and gusto with which various Bok substitutes enter the combat these days is simply another indicator of the cohesiveness and common drive that punctuates the present outfit and brings great credit to coach Allister Coetzee and his smartly rejigged panel of lieutenants.

On Saturday, as much as we saw customary levels of zeal off the “splinters” from players like Steven Kitshoff and Jean-Luc du Preez, this time the slightly forgotten Lood de Jager also smashed himself into the melting pot like a man possessed.

As acting national captain Eben Etzebeth noted afterwards in Perth, De Jager suddenly looked much like the character who was so regularly inspirational for the Boks at the 2015 World Cup; the Boks now truly bristle with dreamy second-row options.

Once again on Saturday, there was visible, demonstrative collective glee and high-fiving whenever an individual in the Bok ranks did something special during the second-half claw-back, even if some purists may view this modern whooping and hollering trend with a bit of distaste.

Ace pundit Nick Mallett later specifically pointed out on SuperSport, too, that the pretty economically-worded Etzebeth - I don’t believe we have reason for a special gripe with that? - was clearly irked by the failure to win far more than he was the suggestion from Aussie circles in the immediate post-match interview that his charges might have been chuffed not to lose.

It seemed such a healthy indicator of the Boks’ determination to palpably hit new levels on the road toward resurrection.

They still contain plenty of lingering imperfections, both in tactical and skills-demonstration terms - plus in dubious selection aspects in certain positions, where Coetzee has been worryingly reluctant to tweak his brew.

Indeed, especially in the error-strewn and markedly nervy first half from both teams, it was difficult to escape a powerful feeling that both South Africa and Australia remain primarily engaged in a fight to be best of the rest in this year’s Championship.

But these Springboks, armed as they are, most obviously, by agreeably mass levels of pride, energy and ‘gees’, cannot summarily be written off as no-hopers for a shock win at reasonably unfashionable QBE Stadium ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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Saturday, 29 September 2018
South Africa v Australia, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium 17:05
Sunday, 30 September 2018
Argentina v New Zealand, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 00:40
Saturday, 06 October 2018
South Africa v New Zealand, Loftus Versfeld 17:05
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