Springboks look hungry, focused and energetic


DURBAN – Alright, this was not the greatest French team to tour our shores, but who would have thought that six months after the Boks were booed off the field at Kings Park for taking almost 60 points against the All Blacks, the same crowd would be doing the Mexican wave and singing “Ole, Ole, Ole...”

The celebration among an impressive turnout of 42 000 was partly because the Boks had won the series against the visitors (there is a dead-rubber match next Saturday in Johannesburg), but mostly because the vibrant Boks of 2017 have given their supporters reason to believe again. 

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Man of the Match Siya Kolisi tries to hand off Gael Fickou (right), with Yacouba Camara also lending a hand. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePixJan Serfontein was brilliant on the night, and also scored a try. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePixRoss Cronjé provided a sharp service once again, and got stuck in on defence. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

Last year was a terrible car crash in slow motion. This year, the Boks have won 37-14 and 37-15 on consecutive Saturdays, scoring some memorable tries in the process.

It would be scurrilous to dwell too much on the quality of the French side when there has been so much to enjoy about a Springbok team that looks hungry, focused and energetic when last year they were lazy, dazed and confused.

Changes have been made to the playing personnel and let’s be frank, coach Allister Coetzee has surely valued the contribution of the mad genius, Brendan Venter, who works so cleverly behind the scenes, not to mention the influence of another Free Stater, Franco Smith, the attack coach.

More than anything, South Africans want to see a Springbok team play with pride and enthusiasm, and we have seen that in abundance over the last fortnight, which has heralded eight tries and 74 points.

The French had spoken all week about revenge for their loss in Pretoria, and it was felt that they would be a different proposition, having been bolstered by the arrival of seven players that had been part of their Top 14 final.

Springbok captain Warren Whiteley showed some good footwork to evade the French defence. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

Their intent was evident even from the kickoff, and when left wing Virimi Vakatawa found himself in space and bowled over opposite number Raymond Rhule, the line was clear for former Shark Scott Spedding to score in the corner, despite a valiant cover tackle by Eben Etzebeth.

Spedding, originally a Johannesburger, played a handful of Currie Cup games for the Sharks before moving to France. Scrumhalf Baptiste Serin converted for a dream start for the French.

Elton Jantjies pulled back three points for the Boks in a penalty that was earned against the run of play, with the opening exchanges ruled by Les Bleus.

The French were on fire, and a raging charge by No 8 Louis Picamoles knocked Oupa Mohoje out cold.

It provided an opportunity for Jean-Luc du Preez to make an impact on his home ground, and he almost immediately used his strength to effect a vital turnover when the French were in a good field position.

With possession from the resulting set scrum, the Boks launched a scintillating attack that saw inside centre Jan Serfontein initiating interplay between the backs before having the ball returned to him 40 metres later from flank Siya Kolisi for a super try, converted by Jantjies.

Serfontein was brilliant on the night, and a devastating tackle on wing Yoann Huget, who was gathering a bouncing ball, freed it up for Kolisi to gather in a storming supporting run that took him unopposed to the uprights.

Jantjies converted and then struck home a penalty minutes later. Suddenly the Boks were 20-7 up, having been 7-0 down. Jantjies then nailed his third penalty, his 11th consecutive successful kick of the series.

Malcolm Marx kept the French forwards busy at close quarters. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

It was 23-7, a minute before the break. Happy days indeed, even though Jantjies’ kicking record was broken a minute into the second half when he missed a kick from near the centre spot.

If the Boks had been excellent on attack for much of the first half, it was the third quarter of the match where they showed equal prowess on defence, showing huge commitment as wave after wave of French attacks were halted near the Springbok line.

Most dramatic of the endless tackles was made by the smallest player on the field, Ross Cronjé, whose cover tackle forced French No 13 Damian Penaud into touch at the corner flag, with the TMO disallowing the try, and some 20 minutes of attack to no avail took the wind out of the French sails.

The French did score next, though, with flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc kicking the first points of the second half in the 64th minute.

But this was soon more than cancelled out when replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen did some low flying over the line, having been on the end of a build-up of efficient phases.

The French were not going to lie down and quickly hit back with their second try, to burly centre Penaud.

But arguably the try of the match was the last of the proceedings, after the superb Kolisi broke clean through the defence on the halfway line and made 30m before offloading to Jantjies to score.

Sunday Tribune

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