Cape Town – Suddenly
South Africa’s long-time fragility at wing and fullback is just beginning to
look as though it may transform into a strongpoint in time for the next World
Let the try
count from the victorious Emirates Airline Park thrill ride against England
tell it all: four of the five Springbok dot-downs went the way of back-three
members (S’bu Nkosi 2, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Willie le Roux).
traditionally key strike positions - something certainly still hugely relevant
to premier world outfit the All Blacks – but the Boks, in the embers and
immediate follow-up of Bryan Habana’s great reign and gradual fading from the
scene of JP Pietersen, went through a lengthy period where returns from the
berths were notably poor.
in the Allister Coetzee two-year tenure as national coach, defensive competence
nose-dived all too markedly in the positions as well.
after week and month after month “Toetie” only helped bury himself, really (he
did make certain advances in other areas at times) through his inertia in
selection among the fullbacks and wings.
Raymond Rhule, Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and Dillyn Leyds earned more
generous spells in green and gold than they generally deserved during the
course of unedifying 2016 and 2017.
game-plan limitations probably did them no favours, and all have previously or
even subsequently in some cases demonstrated a determination to restore their
reputations at Super Rugby level.
was widespread agreement among critics and observers at the outset of this year
that the back three needed very urgent remedial work … and successor Rassie
Erasmus is already starting to show tangible fruit, it seems, from his vigorous
“all change” policy.
Even in the
scrambled-together, callow Bok combination Erasmus fielded for the
controversial Washington DC exercise against Wales, wings Makazole Mapimpi
(especially) and Travis Ismaiel showed at least some signs that they might cut
it for more meaningful internationals than that one, further up the line.
certainly a very early pointer, too, to Erasmus acknowledging the Boks’ urgent
need to muscle up and field some slightly taller souls in the wide slots, where
strategic “aerial assault” has become such a prolific phenomenon in modern
clearly had significant enough confidence, all the while, in his intended
debutants for the big Johannesburg crunch - Nkosi and Dyantyi - not to even put
them on the long-haul flight to the United States and instead remain at home to
fine-tune for the English challenge.
As it turned
out, both only powered Bok wing play considerably further along the road toward
a return to much-needed global reverence in the wide positions.
It is true
that the rookie pair were caught as cold as anyone else in the Springbok
backline in that heart-stopping, initial England salvo of scores, but once the
host nation got into a more settled mode, they became two of the most lethal of
Bok raiders in the stirring fightback.
most satisfying moment was seeing No 14 Nkosi swiftly ghost his way into
service on the opposite wing, and get involved in some deft interplay with
home-town favourite Dyantyi, in the lead-up to his second try.
solidly-built Sharks customer (that physical hallmark is manna from heaven in
itself) had also revealed a beautifully subtle side to his rugby makeup just
four minutes earlier with his clever grubber preceding his maiden score.
Dyantyi, it was an eye-opener to see a Bok wing so willing - a little Habana-like
at his prime - to so obviously go foraging for work and seek to cash in on any
opportunistic moment or two that might come his way.
At 1.82m and
86kg, he is no Taqele Naiyaravoro-type freight train (or even a Rieko Ioane,
for that matter), but perhaps just in body language and heart certainly gives
the impression that he is bigger than his tale of the tape may suggest.
flier once tore very spiritedly into his marker, Jonny May, with a classic,
flooring midriff tackle and that is the kind of gesture that often helps
galvanise an entire team in a ding-dong contest.
at home on their baptisms to Test rugby, it is exciting to think what the
future may hold for Dyantyi, 23, and the 22-year-old Nkosi if they gel into the
must-pick regular combo for the country - they should sport a more comforting
15-plus caps each by the time World Cup 2019 comes along.
prolific try-scorer across various first-class competitions, the wiry Mapimpi
may well breathe heavily, and constructively so, down their necks for selection.
fullback, the Boks should be well served by a seemingly rejuvenated,
X-factor-laden Le Roux if Erasmus’s intention is to more regularly play the
kind of fast-tempo, expansive game evident for generous tracts of the first
Test from them.
the unpredictable figure he is, expect the Wasps-based man to produce the
occasional howler, as he has before.
But he also
takes the Boks well away from the more formulaic approach to No 15 play that
was too easily apparent when players like Coetzee or, previously, Zane Kirchner
were stationed in that role.
I’d say with
conviction that Warrick Gelant, the current back-up in the last line of
defence, is also inherently much more of a “Le Roux” in playing style than the
other two, so the Boks may not lose too much style-wise if the seasoned
incumbent, say, got injured.
yes, but there’s already a healthy portion of evidence on the table to suggest
things are looking up more swiftly than we anticipated among the Bok back three
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