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Springbok 'spine' is strong, but some elements still need work

Malcolm Marx, Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth talk during the Test against New Zealand at Newlands. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Malcolm Marx, Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth talk during the Test against New Zealand at Newlands. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Published Oct 11, 2017


DURBAN - We justifiably should continue to applaud the Springboks for the raw guts and passion they showed at Newlands.

They have put a smile on our faces again and running the All Blacks so close shows the players are indeed playing for each other and the jersey, and you can’t put a price on that.

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That game, which so easily could have been a Springbok victory, almost has no negatives to it (apart from the result!) because it also gave the players’ capabilities the most thorough of examinations.

As wonderfully entertaining as the game was, it was also extremely brutal in exposing strengths and weaknesses. It was just about as close to mortal combat in the Roman Coliseum as you can get in 2017.

There was nowhere to hide for any player with skills limitations, while also providing opportunity for those possessing true warrior spirit as well as a good skill set to stand out. The Springbok pack was mostly exceptional. We don’t have to mention a word about Marx, but jeepers did Pieter-Steph finally show what he really can do with those big mitts of his?

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Kitshoff also confirmed he is much more than an impact sub.

Pre-match I wondered about the gamble of picking three locks. It was an inspired selection.

Lood de Jager at the 2015 World Cup was the brains behind a very good line-out (Matfield did not play many of the games). He ran the line-out superbly at Newlands, freeing up Etzebeth to revel in a game tailor-made made for his combative attributes.

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But it is the spine of the team I want to examine. The wise men of rugby always maintain successful rugby sides, be it at provincial or international level, have standout players at 2,8,9, 10 and 15, around which the flesh of the team is added.

There is substance to this although, of course, you can obviously have match winners in other positions. But non-negotiable is reliable, highly competent players in that aforementioned axis.

How do the Boks shape up if we look at the spine? Hooker? Again Malcolm more than made his mark.

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Scrumhalf? Ross Cronje deserves his place, and since he replaced Hougaard has given a rhythm to the attack. He also gives confidence to Elton Jantjies, and it makes sense that this franchise combination is elevated to international level.

But Newlands last week also showed the courageous Cronje is no Fourie du Preez. His box-kicking is not good enough and one poorly directed kick led to an All Blacks try.

By contrast the All Blacks’ box-kicking was pin-point and allowed their chasers to contest for the ball. It was not down a counter-attackers’ throat.

The speed of Cronje’s passing also came under the microscope. It must be snappier.

Flyhalf? Elton-bashing is a popular sport among our fans and I am not going to join the club.

We must see Elton for what he is. The best we have right now and he is not all bad. We must accept that currently he is the man for the job and he is going to make half a dozen elementary mistakes in each Test he plays while also doing some pretty good stuff.

But will we win a Rugby Championship with Elton as the general, not to mention a World Cup? This is a rhetorical question...

It would be churlish to compare Elton to Dan Carter, who turned in one of the great flyhalf performances of all time in the final of the 2015 World Cup. Let us leave it at this: teams which win big trophies have a general at 10 who takes the game by the scruff of the neck and generally does not miss “gettable” kicks at goal, the odd tackle and the odd touch finder. And he does not get charged down.

So what are Allister Coetzee’s options? Right now he must stick with Jantjies, particularly if it is in conjunction with Cronje, and he must wait to see what transpires with Handre Pollard.

Pollard needs game time to find form and, to be frank, we actually don’t not know how good he can be because we have yet to see him realise his full potential.

Then there is Curwin Bosch. We are told there is a national plan for him and he is not yet ready for the Test stage. Perhaps he will get opportunities on the November tour or perhaps Coetzee wants to see how he manages at 10 in Super Rugby?

That brings us to fullback, a position Bosch is at home in. The incumbent is Andries Coetzee, a plucky little fellow who is gutsy under the high ball and unafraid to take on the defence on counter-attack. But is he a world class player? I am not sure.

I think Warrick Gelant is building an increasingly strong case for the Bok 15 jersey, while it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Bosch can grow into the next Andre Joubert.

The Mercury

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