CAPE TOWN - After two seasons of subpar results, a good start against England was always going to be important for Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks. And it doesn’t get much better than clinching the three-match series with a Test to go. So as the Boks have passed the first test of what’s going to be an important international season, Wynona Louw has looked at nine factors that played a role in their much-needed June celebrations.
1. Super scrumhalf
There can be no doubt about the difference a decent No 9 can bring to a team, and in only two Tests, we’ve seen Faf de Klerk present all kinds of threats to Eddie Jones’ England. The position has been circled by question marks for some time now, but with De Klerk’s speedy and effective service, his potency around the fringes - both in terms of attack and defence, his tactical intelligence, disregard-for-life-or-limb defence, his ability to enable his flyhalf, that pace and general firecracker contributions in open play, we just might have the answer.
2. Loose-forward fire
How good has Duane Vermeulen been in the last two weeks? The powerful work and vision he showed just before exploiting the gap and scoring his try (after chucking Maro Itoje aside to greet the grass) in Bloemfontein was class, and the same can be said about his monstrous efforts on defence and, of course, the way he managed to be a massive nuisance to the niggly English at the breakdowns. Skipper Siya Kolisi has also played his part and has worked hard on defence, and while his opportunities have until now been limited, it’s his prowess with ball in hand that will add another dimension to the Boks’ loose-forward stocks. Newlands, perhaps?
3. Form rewarded
The fact that we didn’t always see enough of this in the last two seasons was frustrating. Very much so. The selection of two thoroughly deserving, potent wingers in S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi as well as somebody like skilful lock RG Snyman has probably been the most exciting selections in the starting line-up, while the squad itself boasts even more Super Rugby achievers. Seeing top form rewarded is a sporting practice that one can never grow tired of. And they’ve justified the chances that have been given to them.
4. Sharper edge on attack
We’ve seen some fine attacking spells from the Boks so far. In the first Test especially, the build-up to some of their tries was superb - the quick passes into space after holding on just long enough, the running lines, the offloads that set up impressive strides, the interplay and support play, the decision-making and awareness to spot a mate in space and also create it, and so forth. It would be a shame not to use all the flair this Bok team boasts, and it’ll be great to see them continue to grow that part of their game.
5. Solid leadership
In the first two Tests, Kolisi led his team in a calm, but unmissable manner, and the efficiency of his approach as opposed to the at-times hot-headed spells of England skipper Owen Farrell could be seen in the results. Overcoming two slow starts and remaining composed to get two good wins says something about the Bok leadership, especially under that pressure.
6. Punch off the bench
Long gone are the days when the bench was a seating spot for injury replacements or second-stringers. In the modern game, we’ve seen an increasing reliance on the replacements to provide impact later in the game, bolster their team with some fresh legs and close a game out. And it’s something that the Boks have made good use of. The take-over front row of Steven Kitshoff, Akker van der Merwe and Thomas du Toit have been testament to that.
7. Intensity and freedom
Sure, the Boks aren’t the finished product, and they won’t be for some time. But another pleasing aspect has been the intensity we’ve seen from them. Any already-solid piece of play combined with intensity and tempo will outshine a performance without zest on any given day. Also, seeing the Boks try things and not seem terrified of making mistakes is another positive. With that will come growth, and there’s a great deal of that needed.
8. Overseas influence
What your take is on the policy is a matter for another day, but the influence of overseas-based players in the Boks’ soaring start can’t be underestimated. Vermeulen, Willie le Roux and De Klerk have been massive so far, and it’s also been good to see the effect of their overseas stints on those players’ growth, especially Le Roux and De Klerk.
9. Fighting spirit and maturity
I reckon it takes some kind of maturity to deal with thug-like behaviour from the opposition in the form of a klap to the face that Romain Poite seemed to deem nothing more than a friendly foreign greeting. Or seeing the opposition’s subs running onto the field while your flyhalf is taking a penalty kick. Or listening to the incessant moaning from a captain about a Bok “non-captain calling for a card” after their lineout indiscretions. Yeah, maturity and composure in heaps is what it takes to deal with that kind of behaviour. And while a poor start should never be applauded, the fact that Boks have managed to fight back twice certainly should.