JOHANNESBURG – Saturday’s Rugby Championship win against Australia wasn’t just another Test triumph for the Springboks. It was a knock-down-the-door, in-your-face statement that the Boks mean business in 2019 and want to go to the World Cup in Japan intent on winning the tournament.
The fact an almost second choice Bok side took on a near full-strength Wallabies team that had set up camp on the Highveld for two weeks prior to the match, to acclimatise and give themselves their best chance of beating the Boks, and beat them fairly comfortably is not to be sniffed at.
Let’s not forget 14 so-called first choice Bok players watched the match in New Zealand, sent Down Under early to get ready for this weekend’s match against the All Blacks. But, as Frans Steyn said after Saturday’s win at Ellis Park, if the Bok team he played in on Saturday can beat the Wallabies by more than 15 points then what is the A and B team?
He has a point. Even coach Rassie Erasmus probably isn’t 100 percent sure about who the first choice players are and who the back-up men are, such is the closeness between the vast majority of the men in his squad.
It’s the reason he didn’t want to call it a Bok B team that faced the Wallabies, and he’d be right; it was far from being a B team. The team that will face the All Blacks this week is mostly just a different team, with a few exceptions, to the one that ran out last Saturday.
Francois Louw, who faced the Wallabies at Ellis Park, said after the game on Saturday he had never seen so much depth in a Bok squad, and he’s been in the mix for a while. He, too, would be right.
Erasmus has picked wisely going into this World Cup year and it appears as if he has covered all his bases.
It now looks as if it is not only the All Blacks who can push two teams of similar strength into the field, but the Boks, too; and that is massively encouraging ahead of the World Cup and for the years ahead.
It is important to have this kind of depth and strength because if injuries hit, there is likely to be someone else, of equal, or close to the same, quality able to step in and perform at the highest level without any real concern or hiccup. The Boks, in recent times, have not had this kind of depth and the luxury of having two or more players of more or less equal ability in each position.
Just as All Blacks boss Steve Hansen has had to make some tough calls on players in his time as coach, so Erasmus looks set for the same big selection dilemmas later this year.
Of course, judging the Boks and what they could achieve this year, on one performance - and that the first one of the season - is not the smartest thing to do. The reality is they played at home on Saturday and got lucky on a few occasions when the Wallabies could have, and should have, scored tries. Their bigger tests will come in the next few weeks, to the All Blacks in New Zealand, and to Argentina, also away from home, in trying conditions. Do the business there and then, maybe, we can start getting a little excited about what may be in the offing later this year.
Because, at the end of the day, a quality squad, with depth and options, will mean nothing if it doesn’t translate to wins on the field. Right now though, for a change, there are plenty of reasons to be upbeat about the rest of the 2019 Test season.@jacq_west