John Robbie.
It’s never three out of three, is it? Stuart Baxter’s Bafana Bafana side did us proud against Nigeria and quite apart from the result, we looked as good as they did, even with all their expensive superstars.

There was shape and rhythm to our play, and you could see that the players were up for it. It wasn’t luck.

The loss to Zambia means little as we are all fed up with us winning friendlies that don’t matter. We need to win the vital ones in our sport because they are the ones that are remembered. We need to win the ones that count.

In hindsight, we could have scored more goals and really put them away, but we will take it. Nigeria away and we only won 2-0? That’s more like it guys. 

Another scalp for Stuart’s lance, yes, but I loved the way he heaped praise on the players. So many coaches criticise them in defeat and take the kudos in victory. A great start to the Afcon campaign.

Ramahlwe Mphahlele was particularly impressive, as was the whole defence. 

Dean Furman was like a Duracell bunny in front of it. A bunny with teeth. This might just be the start of the beginning of our return to the top. I hope so.

The rugby was satisfying as well, although far from perfect. Right from the start, you felt there was an effective format in operation, and within that, the Boks could perform and also clearly make decisions.

Ramahlwe Mphahlele clears against Nigeria. Photo: Kabiru Abubakar, BackpagePix

Each player has to do his own job first and foremost, and then contribute where possible. Basics first, and then extras. This is Brendan Venter at his organisational best, and Allister Coetzee now has had time to design his own set-up. 

Chalk and cheese from last year. Eben Etzebeth was mighty. Gone was the looseness of the past, and he almost matched Franco Mostert in work-rate. Is there a better front jumper in the world than Eben on his day? I doubt it.

Malcolm Marx played like a giant among mortals, and both the back and front rows looked composed and quick in decision-making.

How about that debut by Ross Cronjé? He looked almost Murray-ish in his composure and the debut try. It’s lovely when a plan comes together.

Clearly Elton Jantjies relished having his Lions mates around him, and his general play matched the wonderful goal-kicking. The three-quarters suddenly look dangerous at times. Attacking tries from our centres? Once again, chalk and cheese.

For me, the moment of the day was at the anthems when Andries Coetzee just couldn’t prevent that tear from breaking free and streaming down his cheek. 

In a normal world, his dad Deon would also have been a Springbok, but better late than never. 

Andries had a fine game in all aspects and he is quicker than he sometimes looks. I love the way he is confident to attack and even defend high up the field. He knows his back is covered, such is the Lions’ format.

Eben Etzebeth was back to his best against France. Photo: BackpagePix

Warren Whiteley exudes leadership and it’s clear, unlike Adriaan Strauss, he relishes it.

The French will roar back today, make no mistake. Altitude is not a factor and they will be faster by half.

We need to see the Boks improve in all aspects, including pace. That is where the New Zealand sides have it, along with total fitness, and we need to see our skills performed just as well as last week, at an increased pace.

That is what the British & Irish Lions are practising ahead of the Tests in New Zealand. They are increasing the pace of their comfort zone.

Once again, like the soccer, a promising start by the Boks. More of that, and the crowds will return.

How do we explain the cricket?

Look at the players we have. It is a world-class outfit with no obvious weaknesses. We win meaningless series’ at will against the best, whitewash Australia and are confident home or away against anyone.

Hashim Amla didn't bat in his usual manner in the Champions Trophy. Photo: Reuters

We are not chokers anymore, we are told. Psychologists and sports motivators have worked with the side, and money is no option. We have a good draw, with only India in our class, so a semi-final place is almost a given. Except, we fold against Pakistan and India, and head home once again in abject misery and failure.

Compare us to India, who look majestic when it matters. Compare us to Pakistan, who choke when it doesn’t matter, but perform when it does.

Who are these bowlers and batters? Where did they spring from? We have no complaints. 

Maybe we try too hard when it doesn’t matter and so the pressure is ramped up when it does. Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla looked like pale shadows of themselves even when scoring runs.

The run-outs? Beyond belief. I give up trying to explain our competitive record in cricket.

* John Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf.


Saturday Star

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