Boks gunning for back-to-back series wins

Eben Etzebeth of South Africa is challenged by Josh van der Flier of Ireland. | BackpagePix

Eben Etzebeth of South Africa is challenged by Josh van der Flier of Ireland. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 8, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The Springboks reinforced their status as world champions and the top-ranked international team by beating Ireland in the first Test in Pretoria.

Now, with the second and final encounter approaching, they have the chance to not just make it back-to-back victories over the second-ranked side, but also back-to-back series wins over them after winning back in 2016.

Head coach Rassie Erasmus admitted that, at times, the performance at Loftus Versfeld wasn’t the best, but his team showed enough glimpses of the type of rugby they want to play, which will only get better the more they run out on the field.

They will look to step it up a notch on Saturday when they take on the Irish in the second Test at Kings Park in Durban (5pm kick-off).

The victory included a brilliant try for winger Kurt-Lee Arendse, who exploited space expertly to dot down, an iconic Cheslin Kolbe kick-chase to score from an Irish error, and a pushover scrum penalty try that would make any forwards coach’s chest swell with pride.

With the try of Arendse in the third minute of play, you could see the influence of attack coach Tony Brown and how the Boks want to play under him.

It was the perfect display of Springbok power rugby as the defence kept Ireland at bay at crucial stages in the clash, but there were some errors, like those that resulted in tries for Conor Murray and Ryan Baird late in the clash, that need fixing.

The highveld was an ally of the Boks, but when they head to Durban this weekend, they can expect a fierce backlash from the Irish who will be much more adapted to playing on the coast.

“Overall, the goal was achieved but it was far from a perfect performance,” said Erasmus.

“We wanted to achieve certain things from the match and first on the list was a win. Secondly, things get really technical against them in the line-outs and scrums, and towards the end, things went a bit better for us.

“Overall, we won and the last game is to draw or to win. The team they are, the coach they have, and with the world-class players – they had five players in the world team last year and the coach was coach of the year – it’s the team we were up against.

“So, we are pleased with the win but more hard work lies ahead.”

Erasmus was also not too bummed about the kicking woes of flyhalf Handre Pollard. Much like in last year’s World Cup pool clash against the Irish, where the Boks left 11 points off the tee with their kicking troubles, Pollard missed three relatively easy kicks at goal from penalties that could have extended the lead going into the second half and during the last 40 minutes of play.

The Bok coach said they were tempted to replace Pollard earlier with rookie Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu but because of the 6-2 bench split, and scrumhalf Grant Williams replacing Faf de Klerk early, they had to hold him back until Pollard had emptied his tank.

“Handre had one of those games where we know he slots those kicks, but today (Saturday) he didn’t. He just has to go work on that.”

The Boks will head to Durban for the final Test with some selection headaches again.

It would be interesting to see what outside centre Lukhanyo Am and flyhalf Manie Libbok can do in a different game plan, while inside centre Andre Esterhuizen would also want a look-in. But incumbent in the No 13 jersey, Jesse Kriel, had another sublime game, so it will be difficult to take the jersey away from him.

There’s a case to be made for trying out Libbok and Esterhuizen alongside scrumhalf Grant Williams, who also put in a strong performance. After the showing of the forwards and the impact of the bench, the Boks are likely to leave things unchanged in this department.