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Boks timing a charge beautifully

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If you are a South African cursing, or bitterly mocking the Springboks for their late surrender to the All Blacks in a cracking Test match at Loftus, I would argue with some force that you are blinkered and ungenerous.

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Less than a year out from the 2019 World Cup, there’s a seriously compelling case for saying you should take huge heart from the illuminating first 75 minutes or thereabouts of the Rugby Championship encounter, rather than obsess too acidly over dramatic, game-flipping events in the final five on Saturday.

These Boks, under Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi’s respective care as coach and captain, are a team on a pronounced upward flight path … at an ideal juncture, really.

An increasing school of astute rugby analysts worldwide will be just beginning to come around to the possibility that New Zealand have peaked in this golden era for them – and prepared, at the same time, to credit South Africa as quite possibly the market-leading threat now to their long-time supremacy.

Could the All Blacks of this generation have another – unprecedented third in a row, if so – Webb Ellis Cup win in them? Well, of course they could.

There is still much that is so good and enviable about them, including the very qualities that saw them somehow eke out triumph from the brink of “death” in hostile, atmospheric and on-edge Pretoria.

But the gap on them is compressing: we saw hints in their shared British and Irish Lions series last year, but more recently the Boks’ ability to be immeasurably more than a nuisance to them has become a striking feature as well.

To measure the well-nigh indisputable Springbok resurgence against the fiercest of their rugby foes, it is instructive to compare their three most recent results against NZ with the trio immediately before that.

The last three have all been genuine rippers: both bilateral clashes now under the tutelage of Erasmus, which saw a two-point reverse at Loftus and two-point victory at Wellington, plus (and let’s give poor Allister Coetzee just a smidgeon of credit for it) the 25-24 loss in a Newlands nail-biter at the end of last year’s Championship.

Points for NZ in the period? 91. Points for SA? 90. Yes, it’s been that, electrifyingly tight.

Now weigh up those humdingers against the other, lamentable and record-breaking meeting in 2017 (0-57), and the respective encounters of 2016: 15-57 and 13-41.

Points for NZ? 155. Point for SA? 28.

The Boks just weren’t at the races in that bleak period; suddenly they are taking the All Blacks right to the wire.

Shh … is it perhaps even a good thing for longer-term purposes, too, that South Africa couldn’t quite get over the line on Saturday?

Had they done so – creating the first instance of NZ losing to the same team twice in a row since 2009, the last Bok Tri-Nations title win – the pressure would have been especially immense on the Boks as likeliest stoppers of the All Blacks’ lengthy World Cup mastery late next year.

This Loftus heartbreak will, I suspect, have had the impact of just tempering any Bok optimism, constructively, and making them as aware and complacency-free as ever of just how maddeningly difficult it is to knock over Kieran Read and his merry men.

I don’t believe it will have served up much, if any, psychological scarring on the home team.

Was this a “choke”?

My pretty staunch gut feeling is not — not when so many of the same Bok personnel had been responsible for the defensive heroism and generally never-say-die attitude that had punctuated their own, unexpected win against the same opponents in the Cake Tin just three weeks earlier.

If anything, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reportedly picked up on this theme in his post-match press briefing at Loftus, the dominant Springboks played better and considerably more multi-dimensionally in this defeat than they had in Wellington where, on that occasion, they had instead been the slightly fortuitous victors – boot a little quirkily on the other foot, and all that.

These Boks actually took a step further up, in so many senses, in their development at Loftus rather than a wee stumble down one. (For the record, I had quietly feared beforehand that All Black retribution might have been more emphatic on the board.)

South Africa are no longer, it seems, simply polite and reverent losers to the New Zealanders. Rather, the result on Saturday will have hurt – and should only stiffen their ongoing resolve further – for the very reason that they had enthrallingly commanded so much of the play.

That is what is so exciting.

Plenty of young and inexperienced players, remember, punctuate this Bok squad, and there are still a useful further eight Tests or so for them, home or abroad, to bolster their street wisdom and the temperamental requirements for flourishing at the looming, premier jamboree in the Far East.

All that was missing on Saturday was the more apt final score.

These Springboks, marked by increasingly healthy competition in a swelling array of positions, are coming along just fine.

They are busy timing a charge very well indeed for RWC 2019.

Not many of us would have said that at the beginning of 2018 …

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22 COMMENTS

  1. One thing Rob is missing, is that it doesn’t matter that the Boks made NZ look ordinary for 65mins, after the full 80 the scoreboard shows that the All Blacks won. Yes we have made massive strides, the Boks look a lot better and with more experience I reckon the Boks will only become better. But to call us world Cup contenders after losing at home, is a bit far fetched. We still lost.

    Lots to work on for EOYT. I am happy with the RC performance. I didn’t give Rassie any chance of 50% during the tournament, one that we should’ve actually had more than 50% record with the Arg and Aus loss looking more and more like the Boks didn’t show up. The trick now would be to replicate the performances against NZ against the other teams. If we manage to do that, 3 out 4 is worst case scenario, with Ireland being the potential banana peel. Anything less than 3 out of 4 will be seen as a failure. The sad thing is, that the better you perform, the more expectations rise. Go prove we have made strides and make it a min goal to win 3 from 4, possible even 4 from 4. Then we can start talking about timing a charge

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  2. @Aldo: Don’t think we play Ireland this time – just England, Wales, Scotland and France. Getting a ticket for Twickenham is near-impossible (will have to wait for general sales next week!); can get one for France, but with their system you cannot even reserve a seat, just a block in stadium (pfft!); can get a ticket for Wales (and great atmosphere); and Scotland is too bloody cold to watch a game of rugga.

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  3. @Bekke: yeah saw that too. Don’t know why I thought we playing Ireland. Would’ve made sense to play them seeing as how they are possible quarter final opponents

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  4. @Bekke:

    That is why we have pubs – nice and warm, good atmosphere, good drinks
    No need to freeze my balls off in an uncomfortable seat I paid 80 quid for… That 80 quid is worth a good nights drinking diablo

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  5. @Provincejoulekkading: Heard the best remark on this today….Funny our most transformed team in years have beaten the AB in NZ and should made it two losses.

    So actually @Provincejoulekkading: I have no problem with Rassie building up the quota bank because they have proof they are better than the other option we have seen in the past.

    Just for those who like to get on the Kolisi bandwagon…….

    A fetcher is just one type of openside.. all depend on broader approach to breakdown and how teams want to use numbers on defence.

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  6. @Jacques:

    Kolisi had one of his best games for mine this past test, his captaincy in the last 20 minutes is not beyond criticism and a ‘bandwagon’ just because ‘you’ disagree.

    Thanks for the definition of ‘fetcher’ though… you’ll find most speak of ‘balance’ in the loose-forward trio on here first and foremost whether that be specialists in the positions, the dynamic of the trio, the T5 or even the team as a whole at the tackle-zone.

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  7. @Provincejoulekkading:

    Probably not the most ‘eloquent’ way of putting it, particularly not in an era of the ‘competitively offended’… however Erasmus and SARU themselves have openly stated that the racial targets set by the politicians are for the season as a total and not every test match.

    Or are ‘you’ denying that mandate and the threats that come with not achieving it come season end?

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  8. @Jacques: jeez that is the biggest load of, nonsense I have ever heard. There were a total of 4 black players in the run on team in Wellington and another 5 on the bench. That totals 9 out of 23. Way of target. Cosatu were complaining about the make up of the team. Remember that? It is not close to target nor the most transformed Bok team. As for Kolisi, there is no bandwagon. He is just one of those players, much like morne steyn. You either love his play or you loathe him. Only reason the word quota ever gets mentioned is, because no matter how good you are or how much you deserve your position, the mere fact that you are a player of colour, makes you a quota. You are part of the number of players that will be counted before the team is approved. So as you will always be counted as part of the number, you will always remain a quota. It has nothing to do with deserving your spot or not. Government creating the negative connotations around the world. Don’t blame us for using it.

    @Provincejoulekkading: dude come on, do you deny that there is a quota to fill? Do you deny that Rassie has publicly stated that it is his top priority to transform the team and reach 45% quota this year and 50% next year. If you agree that this is true. Then barring the fact that Bekke said it in his normal harsh way he speaks of everything, kriel being a rather big receiver of his vitriol, davids and me at times as well, he is not wrong.

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  9. @Aldo: @Aldo: good idea if you understand the transformation targets first let me try again. and actually 8 players in Wellington test.

    Acommulated 45# for 2018 for the Whole year as a match day squad

    Trade unions who lost thousands of members say things for members which means money. Agreement is with government not trade unions

    50% by the time he pick his WC squad

    Rassie transformation has been the best in years for the Boks

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  10. Bryce actually not just this test but the whole RC this year, he has been growing as player and captain throughout

    He maybe not a Whiteley as captain but he is getting better as he gets on

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  11. @Jacques: so you confirm I’m right. Way of target and he needs to make it up in other tests to get to 45% for the year and he needs to get to 50% next year. Tell me again how what I’ve said was wrong? And tell me again how Bekke was wrong in saying quota catch up?

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  12. @Jacques:

    I disagree with the ‘whole’ RC this year where he has had a penchant to steal ball of the speedsters out wide and gone missing in other facets of forward play during those same mentioned game, putting huge workloads onto others, not to mention gone missing captain-wise when the scores start going the other way. He started the first two-thirds of this last test off exceptionally, taking points exactly when they needed to… when everything started to turn to shit and the game-plan of possession and territory was suddenly thrown out of the window, with new inexperienced subs on… and the remaining stallwarts in the engine out on their feet… that’s when a class captain galvanises his troops and shows his worth. But I’m not singling him out for the loss at all.

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  13. I’m not so sure about ‘timing a charge beautifully’… but at least a 50% win rate in this tournament with a surprise win and then excruciatingly narrow loss against the world number 1’s… in trading terms could be called ‘having found the bottom and consolidating for the next leg up’. The EOYT performance will provide ‘confirmation’…

    I for one expect a win against France, Scotland (cannot remember the last loss to either), the rot against Wales being stopped in it’s tracks… and England and Twickers could go either way…

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  14. @bryce_in_oz:

    beginning of the year I was expecting a 2/2 for the NH tour and hoping for a 3/1 win ration. Now I would be dissapointed if we do not win 4 from 4 and comfortably at that…
    How a good performance can change expectations. popcorm

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  15. @bryce_in_oz: Was interesting to see only Willie talking when the TV cameras showed the Bok huddles behind the posts. Kolisi upped his game hugely over the last 3 games (he was really NOWHERE before then). If he puts some effort in, to do the dirty work, he will be hugely influential (just look how easily he broke the line a few times). Unfortunately you are right – he hides in the backline too often. Hopefully Rassie has the confidence to address this.

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  16. @Bekke:

    Maybe that is his job? To be the line breaker in the bok line and look for the off-load.
    His clearing at the ruck has been his most impressive/improved attribute imo, especially out wide when the backs get tackled he is there to clear. Again maybe that is his job description?
    No one moans about Cody Taylor being on the wing – why? that is his job in the AB gameplan.

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