Beware the wounded Springboks: All Blacks can bring out the best in Siya Kolisi’s men
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DURBAN - NOBODY enjoys losing rugby matches but if there is a silver lining to the cumulonimbus cloud that has been over the Springboks since they lost consecutive Tests to the Wallabies, it is that they could not be in a better headspace for this morning’s Centenary Test against the All Blacks (9am kick-off).
Indeed, by hook or by crook, the Boks are now in that familiar territory that brings out the best in them. There is a reason for that weary old cliché “beware the wounded Springbok” and that is because they thrive on being written off. They lash out when their backs are against the wall and the world is telling them that they are no good.
The New Zealand Herald, by the way, this week had a headline proclaiming that the Boks were: “Unfit, Unskilled, Unnerved”. That would have made its way into the Springbok team room, for sure. This is perfect fodder for the Springbok psyche and you can bet John Plumtree, the All Blacks forward coach who knows South African rugby inside out would have groaned.
Plumtree spent close to two decades in Durban playing for and coaching the Sharks, so it is natural that he has spent the week warning his players that the Boks will be a different beast in this match to the lame one that lost to the Wallabies.
“They will be hurting a lot,” Plumtree said. “They’re a very proud rugby nation. They’ll have a bit of a corral mentality, especially when their own media and fans start getting stuck into the Springboks. That’s when they become an even more dangerous animal.
“It’s too late for them to change the way they play … they’ll just be looking at executing their game better than they have been in the last few weeks,” Plumtree continued. “It’s more of a bully mentality around contestable kicks, really aggressive defence, and forward play around scrummaging and mauling that suits their DNA.
“And people forget that they played some pretty good footy in the World Cup and against the Lions. They can play – they have some outstanding backs. You just don’t know what’s going to happen on the day, so we’ve got to be prepared for everything.”
Plumtree said that his team would not get sucked into the trap of believing the same off-colour Boks that lost to the Wallabies will pitch up today.
It is certain that much of what happened to the Boks over the last fortnight against the Wallabies was down to mental fatigue, an inevitable dip in mental sharpness. No other rugby team in the world has suffered as much as the Boks have due to Covid-enforced protocols.
Firstly, the Boks played no rugby at all for 19 months, then in June last year, they regrouped and have been in a bio-bubble ever since. They have been smothered by restrictions, they have had outbreaks of Covid cases, they have been locked down, quarantined and isolated for four months, and that has to take its toll, especially on the family men who have not seen their children.
Plumtree is right on the money. It will be a very different Bok team that fronts up today against the All Blacks and
in games between these teams, strange things often happen, even more so on special occasions such as the unique double of the 100th Test in the 100th year of playing each other.