Cape Town – The Springboks, in their last two Test matches at maximum team strength, have posted 11 tries … and just as pleasingly, both times in very faraway climes.
They ran in five in the 46-13 romp against Argentina in Salta to clinch the Rugby Championship crown for the first time in 10 years, and then a further six more recently in the 41-7 outcome against Japan in Saitama.
While neither ranks as truly premier-tier opposition, it is still a notably healthy sign, entering the massive business now of RWC 2019.
As mentioned in a Sport24 piece earlier this week, Rassie Erasmus’s charges are also developing a nice little habit of stretching play regularly to their potent wings – evidenced by the fact that the fliers out wide account for 29 (or 51 percent) alone of 56 tries thus far in the head coach’s 19-match tenure which began last year.
But creating space for the wings to have a field day in the try column usually doesn’t happen by accident: connoisseurs will remind you that it requires slick tee-up work on the inside, and most commonly in the shape of clever, assured passing to create disorganisation in often dogged, highly-structured defences.
One of the key architects of that phenomenon – and yes, something you generally expect from a rounded flyhalf – is Handre Pollard, currently the most valuable member of the Bok back division as a whole. (Any dissenters on that score?)
It has been clear and obvious to those who have followed his progress since his remarkable three-year spell as a SA Under-20 kingpin that the sheer pace of Pollard’s passing and his ability to deliver prodigious, well-weighted skip-passes were going to become key strengths of his still booming overall game.
But if Pollard, increasingly also a bastion of consistency for the Boks with his kicking out of hand and off the tee, is beginning to finally get the proper plaudits for his value, perhaps a couple of the other capable passers in the current Bok “first team” might be more loudly trumpeted.
More specifically, Willie le Roux and Damian de Allende have been doing their bit, with rising effectiveness of late, to facilitate space and overlaps for the purposeful, confident Bok wings.
De Allende, a season or two back, fell foul of some often rightful accusations that he “died” a bit too much with the ball at inside centre, perhaps not as peripherally aware -- or pass-inclined -- as he might have been.
It was a frustrating trend, because he had previously demonstrated at Super Rugby level for the Stormers that he was just about as adept as a Sonny Bill Williams (or at least the “SBW” of his prime) for brilliant little offloads out of the tackle, among other offensive-geared attributes.
But even if it may have gone unnoticed to some, the now 40-cap De Allende is producing delightful little touches more routinely again, something evident in both the Argentina and Japan Tests despite his occasional fumbles of the greasy ball in the latter (at least one knock-on happened when he ran a promising, aggressive-paced line in receipt of a short pass that was always going to carry some risk of spillage).
One of the reasons why Makazole Mapimpi was able to romp over (his second of three) for one of the easiest tries he would ever have scored in Saitama, was the quality passing interplay involving all of De Allende, Pollard and Le Roux – admittedly after the pack had provided the extra freedom offered by a brutally dominant scrum.
In the move, De Allende popped up stealthily as first receiver from scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, gave a snappy little pass to Pollard as the second, and the flyhalf then launched a bullet-like, accurate long one to fullback Le Roux. He in turn gave a cheeky, no-look sort of delivery to Mapimpi who was away to the try-line with oceans of space to spare … an exhilarating initiative, all-round.
Remember that Le Roux, for all his flaky little moments when he gets over-creative or takes a daft option, is another who ghosts into the No 10 channel with devastating effect at times, and he is also among the planet’s masters at the draw-and-pass.
Erasmus has exhibited steady -- and possibly even deepening -- faith in the admittedly unpredictable packages who are Le Roux and De Allende, for most crucial Bok assignments.
There’s good reason for it.
Gremlins and all, they’re enhancing a bigger picture.
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