JOHANNESBURG - With a little more luck and application the Springboks could have won this year’s Rugby Championship. In fact, it’s fair to say they were the best team and should have won the title.
Rassie Erasmus and his charges will be kicking themselves for not beating Australia in Brisbane and New Zealand in Pretoria - when they really should have won. Victories there would have given the new coach and his team a five out of six return, and the title.
It’s been a very decent competition nonetheless for the Boks. And yes, progress has been made in several areas, and that is massively encouraging a year out from the World Cup. Most importantly, what the two close ties between the Boks and All Blacks has done is give every rugby nation in the world hope Steve Hansen’s team are beatable.
Also, and of course they’ll never admit it, the All Blacks will now be a whole lot more concerned about their own game and form, whereas the Boks, for example, will be upbeat and positive about the direction they are heading in.
There have been a number of positives to come out of the Rugby Championship. The Boks, at the end, looked like a settled side, with the players all understanding what’s required of them.
The combinations worked well in the latter stages and the players looked comfortable in their positions. Siya Kolisi also stood tall as team leader. The Boks’ attacking game progressed well from game one to game six, while the defence also got better and better as the competition went on.
The set-pices functioned well and by the final outing in Pretoria, the Boks were a complete team with very few weaknesses. They made the number one side in the world look fairly average; and that’s testament to how well the Boks played.
The confidence and belief gained by the coaches and players in the last few weeks will be invaluable going forward, but so, too, the experiences - of having to fight tooth and nail to win in Wellington, and letting slip a handy position to lose in Pretoria.
Those memories and “learnings” will be stored and used at a time when it matters more than in the last month. But it’s not only been sunshine and roses. Erasmus has failed so far to find a back-up to Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf and if he’s wise he’ll only employ Embrose Papier, Ross Cronje or Ivan van Zyl in the November Tests.
At inside centre no one yet has performed well enough for Erasmus to be confident he has the right men to take to the World Cup. Perhaps Jan Serfontein should be recalled to play in Europe next month.
Also, Erasmus will be keen to see his team now show consistency in performance. The Boks took a big step up against New Zealand, but they need to play at that level, with that sort of intensity and determination, every time they run onto the field, irrespective of the opposition.
England, France, Scotland and Wales await in a few weeks’ time ... another altogether different challenge for the Boks, but one they simply have to take on and overcome - with conviction and panache.