The lyrics of Sam Cooke’s song, What A Wonderful World, really summarise what happened in Wellington on Saturday.
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
There was a lot of history between the Springboks and All Blacks going into Saturday’s Test and people were worried about that rich rivalry being lost because of South Africa’s poor results over the past four seasons.
The second verse of that song ends with “but I do know that one and one is two”. I highlight that because isn’t it lovely to win? Suddenly the nation is much more buoyant compared to how we felt after losing against Australia. And the reason is because the number is 36-34 this week. It’s the only number that counts.
You have to play every Test to get more points than the opposition. The stats have been a major talking point after the match, with New Zealand controlling most of the possession, but those numbers are meaningless because we got 36-34.
Rugby is one of the only games in the world where you can win without the ball, where you don’t need possession to win. Historically, South Africa have done that more times than the other way round.
If you go back to the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss against Australia, we had 75% territory and possession, and afterwards Bok fans said Bryce Lawrence was to blame for the result.
So when the stats were weighted ‘towards’ us, we said it was unfair that we had lost. But the feeling this week is that those stats don’t matter because we beat the All Blacks. And that’s because 36-34 is the only number that counts.
That’s why you have to find a way to win every weekend, and to do that you have to find a style that suits you. Every South African enjoyed that Test match, including the players, because that style suits us. The actual grit and determination, sticking together, and fighting on our tryline epitomizes Springbok rugby.
Bok fans must come to accept the fact that this is how you win Test matches.
In the eight playoff matches (including the 3rd/4th place playoff) at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, seven were won by the team with less possession. A lot of people talk about ‘the modern game’ but the truth is that you win Test matches without the ball.
The uniqueness of rugby (as opposed to soccer, for example) is that the drop-off in quality between the No. 1 team and the No. 15 team is massive.
Supporters get seduced into thinking that you have to have the ball and take it through 20 phases. That’s true when strong teams play weak teams, but the stats from those Tests distort the numbers.
When the Wellington Test was on the line in the last 20 minutes, New Zealand didn’t increase the width of their attack, they reverted to direct rugby and mauling. ‘Even’ the All Blacks went to that direct attack, but fans say it’s boring when the Boks do it.
Traditionally, South African kids can tackle and our players enjoy defending. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Somebody once asked Doc Craven who the most important person in the team is and he said, “the tighthead prop.” The follow-up question was who is the second-most important player: “the reserve tighthead prop.”
As much as things change they’ll always stay the same. We were down 12-0 and we tackled our way to a 36-34 comeback win.
Well done Boks for doing everything you had to do to win that Test. Now the challenge is to bottle that amazing performance and keep producing those wins.