JOHANNESBURG – What a game! Last week showed us all once more just why we love rugby so much.
Forget who was playing for a minute and pretend you were trying to explain the game to a visitor from Mars and were using Newlands as a teaching tool.
The level of commitment was amazing, the movement was dramatic, the skills on show were almost gymnastic in appearance. It was, in all, a thing of beauty.
Mostly, however, what shone through was the bravery of the players. Time after time they put their bodies on the line. That is what makes rugby so great.
Yes, skill and athleticism are part of it, but bravery is the thing that sets the game apart. Rugby players do things others dream of doing, but are too scared to try.
They are like soldiers or knights of old, without armour. We were reminded. We were converted once again. Our Martian would have gone home as a fan of rugby. No question.
In a way, I am glad that we lost. Don’t get me wrong – I cursed with the rest when the whistle blew – but, on reflection, am content.
First, the jersey was respected. All players gave everything because they realised Albany had been an insult to the Springbok and the Protea, which gives it currency and legitimacy.
It was a practical apology to the nation and it has been accepted.
Next, the effort of the forwards was immense. Kitshoff, Du Toit and especially Etzebeth and Marx were like supermen.
The rest were not far off, and we can relax in the knowledge that the traditional advantage of South African rugby still endures.
Our individual forwards still have the physical edge on the rest. That is still there and is important to remember.
We also saw glimpses of the future as it could, and should, be. Risks were taken, some of which cost us the game. Ambitious passes and offloads, that didn’t come off last week, will, in time, create chances as confidence grows.
They must be encouraged. Tackles were missed that will be made as defensive systems become ingrained.
Handré Pollard’s cameo appearance was reassuring. All the bad luck he has borne has not dulled his bright star. Elton Jantjies will have competition, and that is good. Like New Zealand, we need a pool of stars.
One of the best parts from last week was the utter dejection of the players after the game. It was a classic, they lost by a point to the best team on the planet and exorcised the demon of Albany.
However, there was nothing but misery on show after the whistle blew. They wanted to win and nothing else. That is telling, and it shows that the desire is still there. It had been questioned, remember?
What happens now? What happens to Brendan Venter? What role is Rassie going to play? Can we build on this magnificent game and be competitive in Japan?
If we had won last week, all of us would have taken the foot off the gas. Instead, more pressure on the pedal is needed. However, it is now pressure tempered with optimism.
We need effort like that every time we play. That comes with pride. We also need the skills learning process to continue at all levels. That comes with collective leadership.
Just for a minute, let’s forget all of that and simply celebrate a wonderful contest. A day when Springbok fans, and the world, were reminded that we are far from finished and that our chosen sport is still magnificent.
What a game!
* John Robbie is a former British and Irish Lions, Ireland and Transvaal scrumhalf.