SYDNEY – South Africa coach Allister Coetzee praised the contribution of his second row on Saturday after the Springboks continued their renaissance this year by extending their unbeaten run to six matches with a draw against Australia.
A change in team culture and a more attacking outlook had been credited with the turnaround in South Africa’s fortunes after a miserable 2016 was transformed into a five-match winning streak to start 2017.
On Saturday in Perth, however, it was the more traditional Springbok strengths of physicality and a strong set-piece that were behind the rally from 10 points down early in the second half to rescue a 23-23 draw with Australia in the Rugby Championship.
With Franco Mostert rested, Pieter-Steph du Toit was given a start in the second row alongside captain Eben Etzebeth and put in a barnstorming performance, with Lood de Jager maintaining the standards when he came off the bench.
“I hadn’t seen Australia lose any lineouts, but we were able to put some pressure there,” said Coetzee.
“We have four excellent locks at our disposal at the moment, and Pieter-Steph was outstanding tonight. That’s one healthy thing about the Springboks this year, that they compete for their positions.
“The guys outside are knocking hard, and if they are starting, they know they’ve got to play well to keep their positions.”
Coetzee, who came under huge pressure after the Springboks lost eight of their 12 Tests in 2016, was particularly pleased with the response of his team after they went 20-10 down in the 48th minute.
“I think there were two good sides who were desperate to win tonight,” he said.
“I’m really proud that we were able to get ourselves back into the match after trailing by 10 points in the second half. I’m proud of the character in this team.
“I think we let ourselves down in the first half with a bit of ill-discipline... In general, you’re never pleased with a draw, but I’m pleased with the result.”
Next up for South Africa is the biggest challenge in international rugby, a trip to Auckland for a clash with the world champion All Blacks.
“The mindset was different this year; in the past, we were thinking about the All Blacks way too early, and forgetting about a tough and good Wallabies side,” said Coetzee.
“We got close, we know we had them in the second half, we came up short a couple of times. Different challenge next week, I think we’ll have to improve our discipline, keep the physicality and be ready for another dog-fight.”