CAPE TOWN – A lot could have been expected from England in the series-opening Test against the Springboks. One of those things was how Eddie Jones’ team would fare on attack seeing that they brought in a new attack guru to address their worrying slump in form.
And the same can be said about the Springboks, there was a lot of expectation there. How they would go under new Bok mentor Rassie Erasmus? How Siya Kolisi’s first shift as Springbok skipper would be? If the debutants would pass the test? How the Boks would play?
It’s still early days, but to some extent all of that was answered. And when it comes to the attack that Jones wanted to throw at the Boks, the team which particularly impressed in this regard was the Springboks.
Firstly, the inclusion of the likes of RG Snyman - and the whole backline - was enough to ignite some hope of how Rassie’s Boks could go, as soon as the team was announced. It was a team picked on form, and on face value alone has caused more excitement and anticipation than we’ve seen in quite some time.
There has obviously been a lot of frustration caused by a number of factors over the past couple of seasons. There was the issue of some form players being continuously, and inexplicably, overlooked. There was also the fact that it seemed like there wasn’t enough importance placed on growing a more balanced game.
Not nearly enough. And last year we didn’t see that width enough. We didn’t see the wings get enough opportunities. We didn’t see enough fluidity on attack. That lack of width was combined with a lack of know-how with ball in hand. Or a lack of freedom. Decision-making was poor on way too many occasions. There was too much predictability. And too often the players looked like individuals in the Bok jersey rather than a team.
But on Saturday the Springbok attack shone. Yes, their defence certainly needs to improve. But the attacking display they produced should have done enough to outweigh the defensive work-on. Fullback Willie le Roux’s try was an A-grade example of vision, execution (through that running line and last-second dummy) and, of course, skill.
Seeing Snyman being set up with an offload to make big metres was great. And so were the quick passes and the space-creating runs and balls that treated us to an attacking spectacle that Boks fans had to patiently wait for.
It should also be said that Saturday also served as an example of what quick ball and a solid service from your scrumhalf can do for a team’s momentum and general performance. And in doing so - along with all his other Man-of-the-Match winning contributions - Faf de Klerk showed he can be the Boks’man at nine.
Again, Saturday was only the first of three Tests against an England team trying to regain form. And the rest of the international season will answer more questions about Erasmus and his Boks. But seeing this relatively young Bok team play like they did, using their X-factor, skill and pure talent, was a good-enough start.