New vibe sews Boks together

Gavin Rich

This is not intended to be the beginning of a work tailored for Mills and Boon specifications, but it was heart-warming to see the tenderness and feeling of togetherness that appeared to pass between Siya Kolisi and Elton Jantjies at the post-match press conference at King’s Park.

Although it may just be perception, there was definitely more evidence of love in the air between the two players from different local franchises than there appeared to be in 2016.

Kolisi set up Jantjies’ first try for the Springboks towards the end of the 37-15 series-clinching win at the Durban venue, and the teamwork that came up trumps on the field was sustained into the press conference.

All the talk about the Boks playing for each other more this year than they did 12 months ago is more than just talk designed to put across the right message.

One of the biggest differences between now and then is that, this season, Allister Coetzee has had time to work on and create a team culture. Last year there really was no time for it.

It would be naïve to suggest that the arrival of Brendan Venter and Franco Smith has not had a big impact, for the Boks are just so much better organised now than they were before. But it goes much deeper than that, and the work that the players did together with the management in formulating their own Bok culture during the training week in Plettenberg Bay has clearly laid a much stronger foundation than they had to build off in June last year.

That is not to say the Boks would go out and thrash the All Blacks tomorrow. You can’t expect a team to go from where it was at the end of last year, which was some distance behind Wales, and beat the All Blacks.

If that was possible, then it would make a mockery of the years of toil and hard work that enabled the Kiwis to become what they are today.

But no-one who was at King’s Park – for both the annihilation at the hands of the world champions last October, and the most recent game – could fail to have picked up the massive progress that has been made since then. It has just been eight months but as the Mexican Wave rolled around the stadium before half-time, the gap felt more like eight years.

I said it earlier – this time they look like they have at least done some planning. It wasn’t as if there was no planning in 2016, it just looked like the planning had been done at the pub in the nearby Riverside Hotel.

There is something else though that has shone through for those who attended the post-match press conferences of both those Tests in Durban: how the language of the Super Rugby season has been picked up and adopted both on and off the field.

Of course at Super Rugby level not all teams get it right, and some get it horribly wrong, but there is certainly more evidence of an intent to keep as many players as possible on their feet on defence, and there are other trends that are being carried through.

The camps held during Super Rugby have clearly had an impact, and both in terms of approach and culture the greater co-operation and uniformity has had positive pay-off. I am not sure Kolisi would have been able to effect the sublime pick-up that led to his try before the introduction of skill drills at his franchise.

And all of the above would probably not be possible if a sizeable proportion of the team’s core was made up of overseas-based players drawn from far and wide who would have had no exposure to the camps or the Super Rugby trends.

The Loftus Test was the first in 57 matches where the starting team was made up only of home-based players. As Coetzee says, we have only seen baby steps for now and the Boks would be right not to get ahead of themselves. But the strides made have been vindication of the theory that local is indeed lekker.

- Gavin Rich