It has taken the players, especially the back three, two seasons to fully understand it and the defence is thus much better than it was last year
JUST under 40 days now to the big World Cup kick-off in Japan, the Springboks are in rude health after securing the Rugby Championship title in Salta on Saturday night in emphatic fashion.
Mike Greenaway looks at five reasons why the Boks will travel to Japan with confidence they can go all the way.
The Boks are oozing
The only way those priceless commodities can be earned is the hard way, and that is what the Boks did in a triumphant Championship campaign that was underpinned by meticulous planning by master strategist Rassie Eramus and his management team, backed by exceptional support for the coach by the South African Rugby Union (which other coaches haven’t enjoyed), and then determined implementation of the plan by players that are thriving on the direction given them.
A happy team
is a winning team
The silverware ruthlessly won in Salta clearly meant plenty to the players as they celebrated jubilantly at the final whistle and they will travel to Tokyo an ebullient, spirited outfit that knows they can beat the best.
It had been hoped that the Boks could edge the Pumas to win the title but instead they flogged the home team 46-13 in a patient, ruthless performance that confirmed how far the Boks have come this year after having laid solid foundations last year, Erasmus’ first in charge.
Rassie has grown the squad while keeping
The Springboks will this week host the Pumas in a friendly in Pretoria which will see Erasmus give more game time to the players that were in the side that beat the Wallabies in Johannesburg in the opening Championship match but have not seen much action while the mostly first-choice side played the All Blacks and the Pumas.
It must be said that it was a clever stroke to operate these two teams and it has meant the Springboks are currently chock-full of quality, hungry players in nearly all the positions in their line-up.
A reminder of the eternal cliché of “it all starts up front” was provided by the Boks in vivid Technicolour at Salta when the Pumas were utterly demolished at scrum time. It would not be rash to say that the Boks boast probably the best front depth in the world if you consider that Rassie has two exceptional, interchangeable front rows that ensure that the opposition front row is under intense pressure for the full 80.
Against the Wallabies and Pumas, the starting combination was Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane; against the All Blacks it was Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe, while waiting hungrily in the wings are players of the quality of Lizo Gqoboka and Vincent Koch. What we have seen is that the “understudy” front row of Beast, Bongi and Nyakane is now arguably in better form than Kitshoff, Marx and Malherbe. Certainly Nyakane has leapfrogged Malherbe.
The Bok defence
has been fixed
Last year, we saw a number of defensive lapses, especially in the wide channels as the players grappled with the defensive system introduced by Jacque Nienaber. But Nienaber has done an excellent job with his press defence.
It has taken the players, especially the back three, two seasons to fully understand it and the defence is thus much better than it was last year.