The Springboks got their Rugby Championship campaign off to a winning start, even if they were “solid, but unspectacular”. Considering that this time last year it looked like they might never score a try – never mind win – again, the relief is welcome. ANTOINETTE MULLER takes a look at what the scribes had to say.
Lo and behold, you are not dreaming. The Springboks not only won their opening fixture against Argentina in the Rugby Championships over the weekend, they won it convincingly. The 37-15 win over the Pumas wasn’t smooth sailing at all times, but there were brief moments of brilliance that’s almost enough to restore the faith of even the most sceptical of supporters.
One of those moments came before the match even started. The near sell-out Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium belted out all four verses of the South African national anthem at the same decibel level.
Notable was South Africa’s attacking intent right from the start, even if those phases did not always amount to something. The overwhelming feeling seems to be: “At least they’re scoring tries again.”
Disjointed as the performance might have been – and weakened as the Argentine side evidently were – a year ago the Boks were losing to these sorts of teams.
Over on Sport24, the pages cooed about the scrum, with Rob Houwing writing:
“Spearing Argentina so damagingly in one of their favourite areas of bravado, the scrum, went a long way to explaining why South Africa opened their Rugby Championship account with a pleasing 37-15 triumph on Saturday.”
Indeed. Coenie Oosthuizen (player of the match), Malcolm Marx and Tendai Mtawarira played out of their skins, with Oosthuizen particularly impressive after being a late opportunity through Frans Malherbe’s injury and Ruan Dreyer’s paternity leave. A hat-tip, too, for Mtawarira, who has been routinely questioned by the selectors-in-chief on social media.
Speaking of social media, it warms the cockles of all lefty hearts to see the word “quota” being owned and its “stigma” removed. All but five of South Africa’s 37 points were scored by players of colour and those who are sick and tired of transformation only being wheeled out as an excuse when the side performs badly noticed and the snark emitting from the Twittersphere was delightful.
In the Sunday Times, Craig Ray praised the persistence of the Boks, writing:
“Towards the end the Boks were running rampant against a Pumas side who were clearly flagging in the face of the total Bok onslaught.”
And, all round, there was praise for Elton Jantjies who had one of those games where those who love him will be feeling very much vindicated.
In the SuperSport studio, Nick Mallett even had some praise for Allister Coetzee and, of course, Brendan Venter, saying:
“It was a well-coached, well-drilled and disciplined team performance and they only gave six penalties away, which was outstanding.
“Work off the ball has really improved since last year and I think that is something Brendan Venter must take credit for. The players work so hard without the ball. It’s so important to look at our chase lines after kicks. Our chase lines were excellent. We had up to 10 players chasing up, and if the opposition tried to counterattack we made good tackles, and also created a lot of held-up tackles which enabled us to get turnovers.”
But over on alloutrugby, Tank Lanning wasn’t completely convinced by the tackling, noting:
“The Boks missed 28 tackles for a relatively low 84% success rate – something they will want to work on. But the 23 dominant tackles played a big part in the monster error rate notched up by a Pumas side.”
Incidentally, if stats get you going, then the alloutrugby platform will be like manna from heaven.
As for the coach himself? Well, he was “pleased” but admitted that it was “not a perfect performance” and praised the team’s perseverance.
“The message at half time was to stay patient and keep on doing what we were doing. We also needed to play in behind them, they were leaving gaps at the back and I think we exploited that. We managed to create the space and the players backed themselves when that happened.”
Coetzee added that “tactical kicking and our lineouts” need to improve, but for now it’s job done.
They travel to Perth in September to square off against Australia and then pop over to New Zealand for what will be their toughest challenge of the championships.
Coetzee and co certainly aren’t under any illusion about the hard work that lies. However, compared to this time last year, they must feel a tremendous sense of relief.
But for all the dissection with a fine-tooth comb, take a moment to appreciate Siya Kolisi’s try in front of his home crowd by birth. Give that man, and his surgical hands, the land back immediately. DM
Photo: The 2017 Rugby Championship game between South Africa and Argentina at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth on 19 August 2017 © Deryck Foster/BackpagePix