JOHANNESBURG - Played six; won two, drawn two and lost two ... that pretty much sums up where the Springboks are right now.
Allister Coetzee’s team were far better than Argentina in the just completed Rugby Championship, but they were probably no better than the Wallabies and never deserved to win against New Zealand, who’re still some way ahead of the rest.
But the good news is the Boks finished the competition strongly with a passionate and effort-laden performance at Newlands. They didn’t beat the All Blacks, but they came pretty close. Winning though wasn’t all that mattered last Saturday, it was the response and the type of performance that was the main issue and in that regard the Boks delivered.
Bok assistant coach Brendan Venter didn’t like the criticism levelled at the team after a second-straight draw with the Wallabies in Bloemfontein this season last weekend. The reality though is, and I’m sure he’d have realised this in hindsight, supporters expected more of the Boks against a poor Australian team and deserved a better performance.
What they delivered at Newlands proves the point that Coetzee’s team is, indeed, capable of better. They were excellent in many areas at Newlands against a far better team than the Wallabies, so if they do the business against New Zealand, why not against other, poorer opposition? That is why every fan has a right to be upset with what at times this year appeared to be sub-standard Bok performances.
The defence - so lame in Albany earlier in the Rugby Championship - was outstanding at Newlands, and so was the in-your-face approach adopted by the Boks. It’s the only way to put doubt in the minds of the New Zealanders and to rush them into making decisions, but it’s odd teams don’t do it more often against them.
For all that defensive work and the strong showing at the breakdowns, the Boks still, however, failed to fire on attack. They created precious few try-scoring chances; in fact the three tries they scored were really their only chances. For the rest they scrambled, tackled and hassled the All Blacks.
The competition is done and dusted. There were some highs and some lows, but the key thing now for Coetzee and Co is to build on last Saturday’s performance; to keep up that standard of rugby and not drop back again. And, somehow Coetzee, and his attack coach Franco Smith, will have to find more of a killer instinct when the Boks are on the attack and in the opposition 22m area.
Malcolm Marx was outstanding throughout the competition, Eben Etzebeth has done well as stand-in leader and Steven Kitchoff showed at the weekend he is the answer at loosehead prop; his work rate is just phenomenal. Siya Kolisi has also been good while Jan Serfontein was, by some margin, the best back in the competition.
Andries Coetzee has done well, too, at 15, while Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies have had their moments. The good news is the Bok team for the trip to Europe next month can still be boosted by the inclusion of a few players, but it is up to Coetzee now to show he is a good selector.
Francois Venter or Lukhanyo Am must be considered as an outside centre option, Ox Nche must tour to boost the front row ranks, Warrick Gelant needs to be given an opportunity and Rohan Janse van Rensburg can bring X-factor to the replacements’ bench.
Coetzee, and his players, will feel a lot better about themselves after the epic at Newlands, but crucially they must now make that performance count, and kick on in the four Tests to come.