SPIRO: Boks aren’t pretty but will be pretty hard for the Wallabies
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Australia's Michael Hooper, left, is challenged by South Africa's Duane Vermeulen, center, during their rugby championship at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
As one thundering run after an another by a massive Springboks forward smashed the Pumas defensive line, one of the thrilled commentators yelled out: ‘It isn’t pretty but it is effective.’
And it was. The Springboks scored nine tries in amassing 73 points to 13 in wiping the memory of last season’s 18 – 18 off the board.
One of the lesson of the Test is that every year teams get the chance to start off with a clean slate.
The Springboks, at least against the hapless Pumas, put away the boring kick/chase/penalty game and replaced it with a game that emphasised thunderous running by their big forwards, some smart finishing work by the back and the traditional driving maul from most lineouts (with the occasional variation to confuse the Pumas).
When this game is backed up by deadly goal-kicking by Morne Steyn, it is extremely difficult to defeat, especially on the high veldt.
One of the pleasing aspects of the play as far as the Springboks were concerned is that eight different players scored tries.
It is always difficult to rate a performance, which looked pretty good on the part of the Springboks, when the opposition was so poor.
The Pumas had two of their best players in the stands with their inspirational captain and number eight Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe and the prop Marcos Ayerza out injured.
Lobbe might not have stopped all or most of the ferocious charges by the Springboks forwards but he would have provided the leadership and the tackling to inspire his teammates to stand up to the challenges they backed away from on the day.
It is not often that you see a Pumas pack monstered by their opponents, but this is what happened.
Either the Pumas did not know the new regulations about waiting for the referee’s call of SET after the BIND call, or they don’t understand English or they were inept but on virtually every scrum they gave away a penalty by making the hit before the SET call.
This is totally inexplicable. What is Graham Henry doing in his job as a coaching guru with the Pumas?
So without their traditional powerful scrum, the Pumas were like Samson shorn of his hair.
They contrived, too, to have two players yellow-carded, so they played for 20 minutes against a rampant Springboks side, in a stadium that was fervently supporting the home side. Talk about making things hard for themselves.
The first yellow card was the relevant one. It came after 30 minutes of play, with the score 9 – 6 in favour of the Springboks who were hot on attack when a pass that would have created a try was knocked down.
The floodgates opened immediately after this incident.
Then when the score 23 – 6, and the Pumas still with a forward in the sin-bin, a curious – perhaps telling – incident took place.
The Springboks won a penalty near the posts and on the Pumas 5m line. The obvious play was to put down a scrum and try to score a try. This is what the commentators presumed would happen. But the Springboks decided against this, and true to type, opted for the penalty which Steyn converted.
We see here the mindset of the modern Springboks, or the Springboks coached by Henneke Meyer. I am all for kicking goals when the opportunity presents itself, especially in Tests. But this was a clear case of going for the maximum seven points for a converted try rather than the three points for penalty.
The Springboks awe and thunder game works best in South Africa. It does not translate quite so well out of the Republic. It also doesn’t work well when the opposition confronts the might of the pack and either defeats it or holds its own against it.
So right now I’d say that the Wallabies and, especially, the All Blacks should/could defeat the Springboks in Australia and New Zealand.
But in South Africa? It is going to be very hard for the two visiting teams. And this will be made even more difficult by the fact that Fourie du Preez, the greatest halfback of his generation and one of the all-time great halves, is back.
He came on late in the Test against the Pumas and gave a lovely cameo performance.
Luckily for the Wallabies and the All Blacks, du Preez is only available for matches in South Africa.
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Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.