Johannesburg – Three key elements have turned the Springboks into a side to again be feared: continuity in selection, momentum and confidence.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has taken a little over a year to test and find out who his best players are and now that he’s pretty settled on a first-choice XV and the make-up of his bench, he has no real selection problems – so that’s issue No1 out of the way.
His pack is powerful, yet dynamic and on Saturday in the Rugby Championship match against Argentina they showed they’ll adapt well to the new scrum engagement law. Eben Etzebeth and Juandré Kruger were phenomenal in the line-outs and in Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen, the Boks have a loose-trio that is perfectly balanced and ready for anything the Wallabies and New Zealanders throw at them.
Hooker Adriaan Strauss, already a more-than-steady operator in the middle of the front row, appears to have raised his game even further now that Bismarck du Plessis is back pushing for a starting place and with two hookers of their quality in the fold Meyer is in the pound seats.
And if Ruan Pienaar can continue the form he showed on Saturday, the Bok boss needn’t worry that Fourie du Preez will only play two further home games in this year’s Rugby Championship. And, as is the case at hooker, what a wonderful position to be in at scrumhalf with Jano Vermaak, arguably this country’s most consistent and best performing No9 this season, also in the mix.
Furthermore, Morné Steyn has again established himself as the No1 flyhalf in the country and it appears Meyer’s intention to play a more attack-based game suits Steyn brilliantly. He is blossoming as a distributor of the ball, but is still a potent force when it comes to tactical kicking – and his goal-kicking on Saturday was again exemplary.
Outside him, Jean de Villiers and JJ Engelbrecht are becoming a dynamic and dangerous attacking combination and in Bryan Habana and Bjorn Basson the Boks have hard workers and quality finishers. Willie le Roux, of course, adds the X-factor from fullback – a starting team that pretty much picks itself. And then there’s that all-potent bench.
The Boks will go into this weekend’s game against Argentina in Mendoza on the back of seven straight wins, going back to the November tour of Europe. There they beat Ireland, Scotland and England and in June they beat Italy, Scotland and Samoa. Now they’ve also beaten Argentina. The Boks have made winning a habit and they’ve got momentum behind them – an almost unstoppable force (momentum being the reason why the All Blacks have dominated the game for so long).
And with that momentum comes confidence – and this Bok team are playing with unbelievable self-belief at the moment, with the highlight their willingness to play attacking rugby. They have scored a bucketful of tries in their last two games and will now believe they can do so against any team in the world.
Meyer has in the past been criticised for being a conservative, forwards-focused coach, but how wrong those critics have been. Meyer is a fine coach – his record with the Bulls proves that – and one can see this current Bok team is an extremely well-coached outfit. Everything about modern-day rugby is about field position and winning the breakdown, and when those two boxes are ticked you get what happened on a day of celebration for Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
With quick, front foot ball in the right areas of the field, you can play the kind of game everyone wants to see. Now the Boks must show they can play this attacking rugby away from home and against better opponents than Argentina. But so far the signs are hugely encouraging that this Bok team can become a special one.