Less than two years since copping a 57-0 drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks in New Zealand, the Boks will head into battle against their arch-rivals with confidence at an all-time high. That’s some progress, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Most ardent rugby followers will remember the moment and exactly where you were when the Springboks lost to Japan in their 2015 World Cup opener. In all likelihood, it will be a similar story when reflecting on the 57-0 humiliation in Albany in 2017.
For me, I remember my TV going on the fritz, and rushing down to the nearest bar. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that I had wasted my time, with the punishment delivered to the Boks almost too painful to bear watching.
A lot has changed since then.
Of course, there is an almost entirely new coaching staff in place and a very different look to a Bok squad that boasts a considerable balance between youth and experience, as well as local and overseas talent.
Over the last year, there has been something brewing at the Boks. Incremental improvements have been clear to see, and whenever you engage with players involved in the set-up, they are united in highlighting a policy of honesty and meticulous planning that serves as a bedrock upon which their success is built.
The long and short of it is that the Springboks will head into this Saturday’s clash in Wellington in a very different frame of mind – one that would have been entirely impossible to foresee after the agonising defeat by the All Blacks on 16 September 2017.
In many ways, that loss was the catalyst for change, and since then Rassie Erasmus has come in with a very clear view to shaking up the status quo. One way or another, he is a man with a plan.
Once again, the Springboks look to have a very clear direction about the game plan and approach they take into every game. The players seem to know exactly where they stand, and competition for places is at an all-time high.
Sources from within the camp also suggest it is a very happy team environment, and there were signs of that when the squad were full of laughs and smiles after playing a light-hearted prank on sensational newcomer Herschel Jantjies at last week’s team photo.
With all that in mind, the Springboks also kicked off this Test season in the most emphatic fashion last weekend as a largely ‘second-string’ side claimed a comfortable bonus-point victory over the Wallabies.
An almost completely overhauled side will now head into action against the All Blacks in Wellington, and there are those such as highly respected former coach Brendan Venter who have pointed out that some neutrals may actually view the Springboks as favourites.
That says a lot about the progress the Springboks have made over the last 18 months or so.
Of course, there is no need to get too carried away just yet, with the Boks still ranked fifth in the world standings, but you do get the feeling that this team could beat any other side on their day. That’s progress!
In fact, when you think about this Springbok squad, Erasmus has got to the stage where he could be replacing Beast Mtawarira with an in-form Lizo Gqoboka. Or taking off star loose forward Pieter-Steph du Toit to be replaced by Ulster dynamo Marcell Coetzee.
How about Faf de Klerk making way for Herschel Jantjies or Cobus Reinach? Then there’s a Lood de Jager, Cheslin Kolbe or Frans Steyn who could all find themselves adding to the impact on a Bok World Cup bench.
This is perhaps the biggest point of difference with this Bok side and those of the past: there is quality across the board. And in the dying stages of a massive World Cup match, that could make the world of difference.
And that’s progress worth celebrating.
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