Boks make rapid ascent

Dan Retief

It might have been the most agonising of defeats at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday but by shattering the perception of the All Blacks’ invincibility the Springboks have reached a new base camp in the long climb back to rugby’s peak.

Recently opinion out of New Zealand was that only two teams, the All Blacks and Ireland, had a realistic chance of winning next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Previously Clive Woodward had included England in the mix in a long-term prediction while others pointed out that, “Australia always manage to put out a good side in the World Cup and don’t write off the French.”

Notably the Springboks, two-time winners of the Webb Ellis Cup, were not counted into the reckoning as possible champions in the Land of the Rising Sun.

That has changed in the last dramatic weeks of the Rugby Championship since the Boks beat the All Blacks in Wellington and managed to dominate the world champions for 70-plus minutes before having victory snatched away at Loftus Versfeld.

Ironically the defeat revealed more about the Boks’ improvement than the somewhat lucky away win.

Recently, the All Blacks have seldom been so comprehensively outplayed in most facets of the game and made to look so rattled.

That they managed to find the resolve to mount an epic push for victory in the last five minutes of course speaks volumes for their attitude and belief in their systems, but they will know (skipper Kieran Read has conceded as much) that this time it was they who were favoured by fortune.

Pieter-Steph du Toit was harshly penalised for lifting Ofa Tu’ungafasi off his feet as he tried to mount a counter ruck, because for once the All Blacks had too little support behind the big substitute, and this allowed the visitors to establish a bridgehead by kicking to touch which led to Scott Barrett’s try.

The capricious bounce of the rugby ball led directly to Ardie Savea’s winning touch-down.

Richie Mo’unga would have had his heart in his mouth when his kick for touch fell in the field of play but luckily for the All Blacks the ball bounced into touch to give them an attacking lineout. A hop infield and an improbable “double” over their arch-rivals might have been the Boks’ to savour.

Still, the two matches against the Kiwis ended up at 66 points apiece and Siya Kolisi’s men showed that they have the armoury and will to sack the black fortress.

Rassie Erasmus’s first year as coach has resulted, so far, in five wins and five defeats but the W column shows victories over England (2), New Zealand and Australia… top World Cup contenders all.

Along the way there have been important improvements for the players and the coaches.

Awarding Kolisi the captaincy was a masterstroke, on so many levels, and the Stormers flank has responded by settling into the role with commendable maturity while his contribution to the loose forward mix has gradually improved.

Kolisi, with his strong carries, turned in his most telling showing at Loftus amid signs that the Boks are coming to terms with the patterns Erasmus and his assistants are trying to imprint.

The team’s defence has improved while individuals such as Malcolm Marx, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Faf de Klerk and Steven Kitshoff were genuinely world-class.

Others such as Handre Pollard (whose goal-kicking on Saturday was superb), Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende and Eben Etzebeth edged back to their best while there were the exciting debuts of the like of Aphiwe Dyantyi and R.G. Snyman.

The Boks are still far from the finished article – their kicking can, and must, improve, they need “to look after the ball” better and eliminate an enduring tendency for the backline to run sideways. But, compared to the previous two seasons, there are reasons for optimism on the way to the next bivouac up the big mountain they set out to climb.

England, France, Scotland and Wales await in November, then there will be a truncated Rugby Championship in 2019 with the World Cup (from September 20 to November 2) now less than a year away… when South Africa’s first game will be against the All Blacks.

At the start of the year it was foolish to contemplate, but this group must now have the conviction that they know how to beat the old enemy.

- Dan Retief

Let's chat

  • nezo

    Well done to the All Blacks for the win. True Mr Dan. Never has a loss been overshadowed with an evalenge of positives from the boks as it was on saturday. The boys did us proud this year. not just on saturday. in the first place we were not expecting to beat the All Blacks this year. Ofcoz because we are South Africans we always believe we can beat them. We have the talent to do it and the history to prove it. i say that with all humbleness as God has blessed us when it comes to rugby. but

    it is not only the win and close loss that makes us pleased. it is the way they have done it. let me explain it this way. its like cooking food. halfway you taste it and find that it already taste good yet you know that it is not yet fully cooked. you then ask yourself how much more tasteful will it be by the time you finish cooking it . so are the boks. they are not even halfway in being a finished product. yet they matched the allblacks 66 – 66 these two games.

    i believe Rassie is cooking a storm in the camp. all we have to do is support these guys. stay humble as a nation. respect every nation we play next. Saturday showed us that we have a coach who can mastermind game plans. That is more exciting than having a coach with one game plan. when last did South Africa completely dominate the Allblacks. I can only think of the 2 wins out of the 3 wins we won in 2009 when Heinrich Brussow was ruling the breakdown. Credit to Rassie. He revealed that they long ago planned for the match in Wellington. Bear in mind that not all plans come to fruition. yet his were successful for both matches despite the loss. He achieved two things. They beat the allblacks without the ball away. secondly, they dominated the allblacks in all departments. This has done his squad a world of good.

    • nezo

      …avalanche of positives from the boks….

  • Wesley

    From a 50plus whipping boys in the RC one year and a favourable points difference the next, it is truely a pheonix rising from the ashes. If the ABs celebrate a normal “nothing on the line but pride” test win like a world cup, you know you had them on the ropes and they feel relieved. Europe awaits us, and we should conquer it if we play like this.

  • John Comyn

    Most encouraging thing to come out of this loss is Rassie went in with a different strategy to the game we played in Wellington which caught the AB’s by surprise. I think we can safely say Rassie out manoeuvred Hansen and the players are starting to apply the game plan on the field. Some will say we lost so what the hell are you talking about but I don’t think so.

    • Barry Smith

      Yes, isn’t it encouraging to not be out thought for a change! Erasmus is a great strategist!

  • Barry Smith

    I am a big Erasmus support and I am hugely appreciative of what he has managed in such a short period of time.
    What we did establish from the AB’S test match is that we have a very good starting match day 15, but most of the bench players were simply not good enough on the day – they let him down badly. So unfortunately we are still some way off building the depth that we have been looking for and that we need to get the World Cup Job done!
    I will be watching the squad selection for the year end tour with great interest. I hope he does not persist with those that have already shown that they are not yet ready for international rugby. Saturday surely showed us that maturity and experience are paramount when you are trying to close out a close game and you cannot do that with boys!

    • John Comyn

      I’m not sure it was the replacements to blame. A few things did not go our way in the last quarter but the bottom line is we choked. With more time I think we will get to a point where we close a game out properly. Again it is about building rugby EQ. I’m not trying to say we don’t lack depth in certain positions but with injured & unavailable players coming back we should have an excellent squad come the WC. Off-hand Duane Vermeulen and Jean-Luc du Preez are two. No 8 is a problem at the moment and with Jean-Luc and PSDT no 7 is well and truly covered.

    • SweetAz

      Yep, I would like to see Pat Lambie, Marcel Coetzee, Bismarck Du Plessis, Pierre Schoeman, Kobus Reinach, Jan Serfontein, Chris Cloete, Kwagga Smit, Ruan Nel, Lood De Jager, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Ruhan Combrink and a few others were given a run.—–Of Course that would mean Papier, Notshe, Beast Mtawarira, Jantjies, Trevor Nyakane and Cheslin Kolbe would have to go and play somewhere else,—-like in Japan or outer Mongolia where they belong.

      • Mike Stoop

        Some of your picks are a bit out there. Who is the loosehead that will replace Beast? Of the names you list, the only real contenders who are worthy are Jan Serfontein, Marcel Coetzee, Chris Cloete and Lood de Jager. Cloete and Coetzee will add value, but it depends on the mix you want for your loose trio. With Vermeulen back, you will have two fetchers already. Neither of them carry as well a Kolisi and du Toit. The rest are no better than the incumbents. The only reason why you consider them to be better is their skin colour, no?

        • SweetAz

          “and a few others” covers the loosehead question, -I did not feel like listing all the looseheads better than Beast but Pierre Schoeman is one, Beast has become a bit like Owen Franks, past his best and there mostly on reputation. Kolisi is not consistent, he goes missing in games and his lack of leadership in the last 15 minutes cost us that game. Do you seriously believe the players I don’t want there are our best options when you saw how poor our replacements were?
          Reinach is better than Papier. ( and so is Hougaard)
          Rohan is better than Die Ellende.
          Combrink can cover fullback and kick 50+ metre penalties, WHO else in the backline can do that?

          I don’t want to get into the colour issue because then it becomes “you are just a racist” issue when its obviously a much bigger issue than just rugby is SA. BUT overseas journalists are starting to question it as well,-

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/opinion/107699437/mark-reason-how-siya-kolisi-could-exceed-nelson-mandela-in-south-africas-rugby-history

          Read what he says about the spine of the team and how that effects selection to understand just how handicapped we will be at the RWC.

          • Mike Stoop

            I have yet to see Janse van Rensburg go through a game without two or three (or more) handling errors. Just cant hold onto the ball. During the recent super rugby season he could not even hold down a place in the Lions side. Reinach is quick, but not an exceptional scrumhalf. Hougaard had his chance under Toetie and he was (at times) woefull. A good rugby player, but a very average scrumhalf. Fighter to the end. Anybody would want him in their side, but he is not a good scrumhalf. You may as well root for Ruan Pienaar. Papier might not go to the next world cup, but he will become one of the best. I agree that he should be playing Currie Cup rather than collect splinters. By 2023 he will be a contender for the best in the world. Reinach may play in the EOY tour, as Faf seems to be unavailable. Then we will be able to make a proper judgement.

            Pierre Schoeman is a show pony, with very limited ability in the scrum. His brother, who plays for the sharks, is a better scrummager. Both Beast and Nyakane are better loosehead props. Beast remains number two. As for Franks; unless the French unveil some freak again in the next year, it will be between him and Tadhg Furlong of Ireland to be the best tighthead prop at the World Cup. (I am not considering the Georgians, because I don’t know them, but their props will also be formidable).

            Combrink is not a better fullback than many of the players who play fullback regularly, like Andries Coetzee or SP Marais (now he can kick). Why not pick Bosch. He can kick further and he can’t tackle either. As for wing: Three years ago, he was the best in the country, but Nkosi, Diyanti and Mapimpi are better now. As is Kobus van Wyk. Combrink has somehow lost the ability to defend. Maybe it is because of his most recent injury. And you don’t pick a wing because he sometimes can kick 50m penalties. As you saw on Saturday, we have a flyhalf who can do it (sometimes).

            I also believe that the quota system distorts the playing field. It is statistically impossible that only black players can come through to play on the wing or at hooker. The quota system at age group level causes this distortion. Unfortunately we have the products of the system to choose from, but you have to admit, a few of them are pretty good.

            I think Kolisi will become a very good flanker come world cup time. I would prefer Cloete, because he can fetch for eighty minutes, but nobody in this country seems to want to give him the time of day. With Vermeulen in the side to support Kolisi as leader, he will become very good at that too.

            Stop moaning. When Vermeulen, Jan Serfontein and Nkosi return to the side, it will be almost perfect.

  • Dean

    Jake White in 04 to the Bok team, “We will win the World Cup in 07”. After they had crashed out in the quarter-final stage and were ranked 6th in the World. Even John Smit didn’t believe it at the time. Rassie takes over in 2018, a Bok team at their lowest point in history, ranked 6th, after historic losses to Ireland, Italy and NZ. He says in an interview that the Boks have the players to beat the All Blacks. Both came true. Exciting times for a Bok supporter!

    • Nezo

      My brother I believe we can say we can win at any time as South Africans. We are blessed with great players year in and year out. The difference is the coach. Get the coaching right then the books will always dominate the world.

      I still think with better coaching the Victor Matfield generation should HV dominated its generation. By there way there is nothing wrong with our Substitutes. They came through for us in Wellington. Don’t blame them. What happened happened don’t expect it to happen again

      • Mike Stoop

        They actually did dominate. The only reason why they did not win the 2011 world cup, was one Bryce Lawrence, who simply did not understand when a ruck is a ruck.

      • Barry Smith

        Why is it that some seem to have the inability to see what is patently obvious to the rest? Could it be denial?
        The reason our Subs came through in Wellington is simply because they stayed safely on the bench for the entire match!
        Koch dropped the scrum on first hit, why was Wilco or Thom Du Toit not on the bench? Damian Willemse has conceded 2 tries in 50 minutes of international rugby! Embrose Papier bearly has a season of Super Rugby – we are playing off 9, so the replacement need to be someone with experience! Notshe deserves a place, but he needs to go on at 6 not 7 or 8 – he is too light for those berths. The sad thing is that we have players on the fringes with the ability and experience, but we don’t select them!

        • nezo

          Below is a quote from Erasmus himself

          “I don’t think the performance of the replacements was the difference between winning and losing. But, that said, I haven’t given my replacements as much time as I would have liked … because of the pressure to win, the situation we’ve found ourselves in … and it showed. The All Blacks had experience (coming on), while our boys are still learning.”

          end quote

          Vincent Koch gave a penalty away that anyone could have given. PSD gave a penalty away too. both resulted in the Allblacks going to five metres of our score line. in that position they could have scored even if our best players were in the field. Remember we considered 6 tries in wellington. two of them were from rolling malls. The same happened in those last two tries. The other try resulted from Eben Etzebeth and Francois Louw bumping at each other during kick-off and giving the Allblacks territorial advantage.

          Mr Barry you are just looking for someone to blame. We just need to support this whole team. they are growing. all of them need to be given a chance.

          • Barry Smith

            Re-read the Erasmus quote carefully and try and understand what he is getting at. No coach openly berates their players, but Erasmus said quite clearly, their bench was experienced ours not. You can surely follow the dots from there?

  • Herman Schroder?

    Regrettably while one wants to show the glass as half full the reality is we still choked badly. The AB’s went home thinking nothing’s changed. RC all sewn up, playing at altitude, hostile crowd, travel fatigue from Argentina etc and having lost to their opponents in the preceeding game would have been a mountain to climb for most teams but not this crowd.

    A recent article on another platform shows how seven monumental errors cost us the game. Not mentioned was the failure to wind down the clock with the forwards retaining possession effectively just outside the AB’s 22 with three minutes left on the clock. Very poor captaincy. The substitutions were undoubtedly the single most telling factor in this loss and Rassie’s need to get the ‘colour’ numbers up before the end of the match clouded his judgement imo. Fatal error.

    We are falling into the trap here of believing that because we have become competitive with our traditional rivals in the last three games we are on top of the world as the photo on this site seems to indicate. The truth is we still lack proper creative skills and the mental strength is not where it should be. Blowing a 17 point lead in 14 minutes proof enough of that. Missed opportunities due to lack of supporting players or players not looking for the offload after breaking the line, two aspects where we still have a long way to go.

    Rassie’s masterstroke was bringing in Willie and Faf and without them we would have been lucky to win any games this season. I do not agree with overseas players being ‘imported’ at all but the fact is they did provide the creative skills so sorely lacking in most of the SR players this year.

    As I’ve said on a previous post one cannot deny that we are better off than we were before June and Rassie has done some very positive things with his team. But in reality we have only really improved on the execution of the basics of the game, for example defence, which at test level should be a given anyway. The difference in the top teams is creativity, skill levels and rugby NOUS, that is where we are still sorely lacking. Imagine if Faf and Willie were not available this year ? Cheers.

    • nezo

      believe me the Allblacks know something has changed. They just using the media to make us believe that nothing has changed. War is an art. You must win on all platforms.

      i agree with the second line of your second paragraph. but remember these guys are on an up. they are learning. we will get there.

      i agree with your third paragraph. Which is why it was more beneficial for us to loose in the manner we lost. so that our dominance of the Allblacks on the day should not hide the weaknesses that are still there. had we dominated until the end. it would be difficult to improve for the next match.

  • Aneesa Sallie

    I agree you had to change but you had to do it sooner. Faf should never being replaced i did not agree with that.

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