The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Are the Springboks back on track?

Are the Springboks capable of mixing rhino with ballerina? (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
14th October, 2015
119
2239 Reads

When you have a 75 per cent win record for nigh on three years and have been unbeaten for two tours in Europe, you expect things to be about as on track as things could be.

Add to that the number two world ranking, which in some parts of the world is gospel, then you as a rugby supporter should feel pretty confident that your team will do well come the World Cup, which is only twelve months away.

But then the shit hits the fan. You are outsmarted by Ireland, lose in a dour match to a dour Wales, a revitalised Australian team beats you up in the dying minutes, and you then repeat the same feat against New Zealand at home. Next you are sliced up by Argentina and finally you hit rock bottom when the number whatever team in the world humiliates you on the biggest stage in world rugby.

It cannot get much worse than that if you are a proud Springbok supporter, eh?

Much has been said about the Springboks over the past few months, they have basically been written off by most pundits and it is fair to say many of them have done it with much glee.

You can’t really blame them though, can you? South African rugby is the scourge of southern hemisphere rugby that takes away from what rugby is supposed to be, a beautifully choreographed display of athletes stepping, pirouetting, and dancing through gaps created by creative play and intelligent pivots.

The truth is South African rugby is more akin to stampeding rhinos than ballerinas at the top of their art. But hell, when those rhinos are in full stampede mode it is incredible to watch defences crumble and pundits cringe with horror.

Over the past four years Heyneke Meyer has been loyal to experienced players in which he placed high expectation to be ready and fit for this World Cup. So much so that he has neglected to bring through a squad of young raw talent who, although still brought up in a system that emulates their native animal the rhino, can also do a bit of the pirouette, the twirl and the dance.

During the past twelve months the inner conflict that must have raged within Meyer as his loyalty towards these experienced players was seriously challenged by players of the ilk of Damien de Allende, Willie le Roux, Lood de Jager and a handful of others, has translated through to his players, his gameplan and his results.

Advertisement
Advertisement

It would have been interesting and very revealing to have been a fly on the wall of Meyer’s private study to have seen how this conflict would have impacted on him as his belief system was being challenged.

Needless to say, it must have been a tough time for Meyer.

So now after much turmoil the question is whether Meyer has learnt his lessons and whether he is open-minded enough to realise his team is not only mindless stampeding rhinos.

Looking at the potential team sheet for the upcoming clash against Wales, Victor Matfield is touted not to be in the match day squad altogether, while Frans Malherbe seems to have done enough to replace Jannie du Plessis.

The starting XV that would run out at Twickenham will be: Tendai Mtwarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Fourie du Preez, Handre Pollard, Bryan Habana, Damien de Allende, Jesse Kriel, JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux.

How close it that to the best possible starting XV?

I’d say damn close. If you look at the names Meyer had intended to put into the starting XV initially, questions were asked about players such as du Plessis, Matfield, du Preez, Habana, Pietersen and Jean de Villiers. You could perhaps also add Burger.

Matfield has lost his physicality even though he can still be considered a lineout maestro, however for me the biggest question around him was his rugby intelligence. Heyneke believes he is the smartest forward in world rugby. In my view he does not know how to adapt, nor read a match situation.

Advertisement
Advertisement

De Villiers has lost form, had to recover from what we thought was a career-ending injury, and for all his worth to the Springboks for more than a decade, he was one of the old guard, unable to adapt, and unable to read the match.

Du Plessis has also served South Africa well, but his body has been overtaxed, he has been run into the ground since 2012, and he simply can no more.

Other questions were asked about whether du Preez and Burger still had ‘it’.

Habana and Pietersen over the past four years were just going through the motions, there was no hunger. In fact, simply put, they looked lazy.

So Malherbe has replaced du Plessis. Although inexperienced at Test level he brings more to the team than du Plessis ever did, his general play, defence and ball carrying makes him a better prop, regardless of whether du Plessis was still in top form. An improvement to the Bok cause most certainly.

De Jager has replaced Matfield, and if there is anyone asking why Lood is a better option than Matfield, well then let me explain it to you. He is bigger, stronger, tougher, has a phenomenal work rate and is hungry. He dominates the contact zone with or without the ball, and there is no doubt he is a massive improvement for the Springbok cause.

De Allende may only have played a handful of Tests, but give me the midfielder of the Super Rugby any day over de Villiers, who should have done the honourable thing and not come to this World Cup.

So where do the Springboks find themselves on the eve of their quarter-final against Wales?

Advertisement
Advertisement

The pack is solid, it has no obvious weaknesses and a lot of strengths, they are big, physical, have at least four pilferers in the pack, and a link man in Burger, who is topping the player stats in a number of categories and revelling in his new role.

Du Preez is not what he was in 2009, that is a sad fact, but he is doing the job required of him, marshalling the troops, managing the game and territory.

Pollard is not a complete flyhalf yet, however he brings a fast running attack to the Springboks which changes the dynamics of their ability to attack the line.

De Allende and Kriel are young, inexperienced and have flaws, but hell, can they fire up an attack. Habana and Pietersen, with five and four tries respectively, look hungry, fit, and are looking for work.

At the back le Roux remains the talisman of the Springboks backline, as much as he has faults he brings unpredictability and excitement.

So yeah, the Boks will still stampede you, they will rough you up and predictably their strength still lies in their forward dominance; they will truck up in first channel with one-off passes.

But every once in a while, you will see an unexpected offload from Burger, a line break from Pollard, a step from de Allende, a pirouette and acceleration into a gap from Kriel, Habana or JP running down the line and beating a few defenders. And if you are really lucky, you might see Willie join the line, delay a pass, create some space, chip in behind the defence or simply go through the gap himself.

Can the Springboks succeed during this World Cup? Do they have it in them to beat Wales and then march through to the finals beating the All Blacks?

Advertisement
Advertisement

I don’t know, but for damn sure you will see some beautiful powerful Springboks rugby in all its glory.