There are several reasons to be happy about the way the Springboks have gone about their work in winning the series against France.
Allister Coetzee’s men have improved in all departments from a year ago and look to be moving in the right direction ... and that is up the rankings and to a place where they are again a power in the world game.
A number of players have impressed in the first two Tests against France, while the team’s attacking play seems to have a cutting edge to it thanks to the introduction of Franco Smith, while the defensive effort so far has been monumental, thanks to the addition of Brendan Venter to the mix.
But what has stood out the most is that the Boks of 2017 have a new and different attitude, something that was lacking a year ago ... and which has contributed greatly to the efforts in defence so far, and thus to the victories.
Coaches and captains often talk about character getting teams through tough, tight encounters. Warren Whiteley spoke about it after the Durban Test – referring to the period after halftime when the Boks were asked to make numerous tackles to keep the French out, after they’d set up camp for 15 minutes on the Boks’ tryline.
It was a superb defensive effort by Whiteley’s men and he’s correct in hailing his team’s character. They also showed it in the latter stages of the Test at Loftus, when the French attacked and attacked, but without reward.
But what the Boks have delivered in the last two weeks speaks more about their attitude – and that is what is encouraging about this 2017 squad, and why the future looks bright again.
Your attitude – or your frame of mind, or your mood – says everything about who you are as a person, or, in this case, a rugby player.
Yes, you can implement a good defensive system – which Venter has done – but after that, it is up to the players to make the tackles and defend well. It’s like Venter putting the building blocks in place, but the players, ultimately, have to do the building. And they have done so, because their attitude is right.
Any coach will tell you that defending well comes down to the player, rather than the system in place, and that pulling off tackles is about attitude. The Boks have finally got their attitude back. Just look at Raymond Rhule ... a player whose defence was under serious question before the first Test, but all of a sudden he is taking down anything that gets close to him. He has in fact prevented tries being scored in both Tests because he has made the one-on-one hit. That is attitude.
Attitude and character do not come to the fore when a team is on the front foot and dominating opponents. It’s only in adversity that those characteristics shine through, and how the Boks have had their backs to the wall in recent times.
But, under Whiteley – who knows a thing or two about pulling players together, making them work for each other – the Boks have regained a passion and love for the Boks, their country and for each other. They celebrate every mini battle won – be it a scrum, lineout, ruck, maul, tackle – they show their appreciation for each other, and they show their joy in those around them doing good things.
We are just two Tests into the 2017 season and there are far bigger battles that lie ahead, but a happy team – a team that plays with desire, passion, character and attitude – is a team that is going to win over the fans and probably win more matches than it loses.