JOHANNESBURG – It wasn’t perfect but it was a victory that will give new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus plenty of hope and confidence about the future and his team’s chances of moving up the world rankings.
The 36-34 victory - the first for the Boks in New Zealand in nine years - will also boost the hopes of the team just a year out from the World Cup in Japan.
Erasmus’ team produced a guts and glory effort to stun the No 1 team in the world in Wellington in a Rugby Championship match on Saturday - a result that's seen as crucial in keeping alive every other rugby nation’s dreams of also one day beating the mighty All Blacks.
It took a Herculean defensive effort by the Boks to get over the line, with several players pulling off crucial and big hits. What the win has done is take the pressure off Erasmus - who looked all at sea in the preceding two weeks following defeats by Argentina and Australia - and the players, who also didn’t show up like they should have in Mendoza and Brisbane.
The five tries scored by the Boks on Saturday is proof they are a team that is prepared to mix it with the best and get the results as well. Sure, they scored two fortuitous tries - through Cheslin Kolbe and Willie le Roux who basically intercepted two bad passes by the home team - but they came about because of quality line pressure on defence - something that has been missing against the All Blacks in the recent past.
It was also hugely encouraging to see Malcolm Marx cross after a well-worked line-out drive - something the home team would have planned for and expected, yet the Boks shifted the point of attack and the Lions hooker duly crossed the line.
Then there were the two tries scored by the find of 2018, Aphiwe Dyantyi. The simple ball-through-the-hands by the men on his inside was too quick for the All Blacks’ defence to reset, allowing the winger space on the outside to dart over. His second try in the 57th minute was even better; Dyantyi stepping inside from the touchline to beat the defence to score.
The Boks might have lost the possession and territorial battle and even been on the back foot for most of the encounter, and let in six tries, but they deserved their win because they finished the opportunities they created.
One of the big positives to come out of the clash was the strong showing by Elton Jantjies and Handre Pollard playing next to each other in the second half, while Warren Whiteley also finally hit top form, the performance his best in a Bok jersey. Pieter-Steph du Toit also stood up when it mattered - at flank - and Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Franco Mostert all did more than was asked of them.
At the back Faf de Klerk and Le Roux again produced quality efforts, while Kolbe showed that heart and talent always trumps size. Captain Siya Kolisi led the team excellently and also produced a strong performance. Yet after those pulsating, edge-of-the-seat, nerve-jangling 80 minutes one’s got to ask, why can’t the Boks play with the same energy and belief every time?
That is now the challenge facing the Bok management team - to ensure they take all the good from the “Wonder in Wellington” into the Tests in South Africa.