JOHANNESBURG: Warren Whitely, one of the heroes of the come-from-behind win against Ireland on Saturday, has scoffed at suggestions it was the Lions players who turned the Test match around for the Springboks.
Whiteley came off the bench to score one of four second half tries for the Boks as they rallied from 3-19 down at half-time to win 32-26 – and give new coach Allister Coetzee his first win in charge of the national team.
The comeback started in the 57th minute when another Lions Super Rugby stalwart, Ruan Combrinck scored a sensational try after bulldozing Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson. The other tries came from Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damien de Allende, while flyhalf Elton Jantjies kicked 12 points, including the final penalty in the 80th minute to seal the deal for the hosts.
“In no way is this a Lions team... this is the Boks,” said Whiteley after his strong showing off the bench.
“Collectively we’re working towards a specific game plan and style of rugby, and it’s not going to happen in a week or two. It’s going to take time. We’re working extremely hard, we worked extremely hard in the build-up to the Cape Town Test and that’s why it was so tough to take (the defeat) last week. “We’re slowly starting to feed off each other, understand each other’s rhythm and learning how play with guys who we haven’t played much rugby with before.”
Indeed, the Boks are a new-look side and at times on Saturday it appeared as if the players didn’t know the person next to them. But, as coach Allister Coetzee also pointed out, he’s only been in charge for a few weeks, unlike the Irish team that have been together for a few years now.
“Tonight was a little building block,” said Coetzee on Saturday night. “The message to South Africa is, don’t write us off. We’ve just had 20 days together. There’s a lot of expectancy regarding the game-plan, the way we’re going to play, on transformation ... it’s a reality, and I must win, that’s also a challenge. This victory has shown that, yes, we can be bold, we can take it on and we can do it as South Africans, together. The war is not won yet; only the battle was won tonight... now we’re looking for a 60-80 minute performance in Port Elizabeth. We will take the next game as our next building block, and then look forward to the Rugby Championship.”
Coetzee also made it clear he was in charge of the Bok team and not a Lions team. “We have guys on the bench to make an impact... I’m pleased Ruan (Combrinck) took his opportunity well, he was outstanding, and so were Julian (Redelinghuys), Franco Mostert... but I’m not looking at Lions players. We’re Springboks.”
The new coach didn’t hide the fact he was a relieved man after losing his first Test at Newlands the week before, praising his players for getting themselves out of “a dark hole”.
“We spoke openly and honestly with each other at half-time on Saturday. The players responded to that talk and that’s what’s important,” said Coetzee. “We were in a dark spot... and not many are able to work their way out of that place. I’ve seen a lot of teams that wouldn’t have made that comeback. We had our backs to wall and showed we can fight ... that shows there is something special in this team.
“There’s 100 percent relief and 100 percent delight; this was a positive step in the right direction. Yes, the first half was not pleasing, but we need to focus on the second half... when we protected the ball better, tactically we were better, our carries created momentum and we kept the wide channels alive,” said Coetzee. “It just shows how much easier things are when you get the basics right.”
Whiteley said the comeback was “massive” for the team, but that, “It will count for nothing if we don’t perform well in PE this weekend. That’s the big challenge now.” Indeed. - Cape Times