The Barbarians match last December was good for South Africa and New Zealand, writes MARK KEOHANE.
The rugby romantic in me loved the Barbarians match against Fiji, but I know Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer would have felt a bit differently. Meyer would have enjoyed the rugby, but not the fact that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was getting such insight into the core of his Boks.
The Baa-Baas were effectively a combination of Springboks and All Blacks and that made it so much easier for the team to play with shape and cohesion, and comfortably deal with an eager but outclassed Fiji.
Hansen, who took charge of the Barbarians, was very strategic in his selections. He invited the core of the Bok Test team and asked Springbok captain Jean de Villiers to lead the side. Hansen got to experience first-hand De Villiers as a captain, a leader and a person.
It will certainly help the All Blacks coach in his planning when playing the Boks in 2014.
Young All Blacks flanker Steven Luatua is another who would have profited from playing alongside Springboks Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen.
It may just be that Hansen stole a step on his Bok counterpart in getting the Boks for the festival match. Meyer was powerless to veto any of the selections as there is no central contracting system in South Africa. I am pretty sure Hansen wouldn’t have agreed to a Meyer-coached Barbarians team drawn from eight of the best All Blacks and eight fringe Springbok players.
The counter to this view is that it borders on paranoia and that these Springboks, as players and a leadership, are beyond such pettiness.
Hansen would argue the Boks got an insight into him as a coach and several of the 2014 All Blacks. De Villiers would probably agree and it’s a match in which New Zealand and South Africa were both beneficiaries.
There is immense respect between the current All Blacks and Springboks. It is how it should always be. There is never trash talk between Hansen and Meyer, who enjoy each other’s company. There is integrity when it comes to the world’s two best teams and there is also a blissful expression in the way they play the game.
Willie le Roux’s chip kick to set up All Blacks wing Charles Piutau was celebrated in style. Piutau showed his appreciation to Le Roux, who gave his rival an embrace that was not lacking in conviction.
On this day, in front of 67 000 neutrals at Twickenham, New Zealanders and South Africans were team-mates.
These Springboks and All Blacks celebrated each other’s rugby skills against Fiji. They applauded each other and they played as a team of Barbarians and not as Springboks and All Blacks. It gave the world a hint of the potency of a team drawn from New Zealand and South Africa.
Hansen, from the TV visuals, certainly enjoyed the Bismarck du Plessis try from the rolling maul. It is not the way his All Blacks often score tries.
De Villiers also flourished in an environment that allowed for the shackles to come off. The Bok captain is a wonderful ambassador for South African and Springbok rugby. He plays the game with a smile. He is intelligent and he is world class. His offload in the build-up to Tom Taylor’s try was Sonny Bill-like, as was Burger’s underarm delivery (in the tackle) in the same move.
De Villiers and Burger, best mates since school, revelled in the occasion and Burger, in particular, got the platform to play for 80 minutes and give a reminder that he will add value to the Springboks in 2014.
There was benefit to this match for Meyer and the cause of the 2014 Springboks. It came mostly in the form of Burger but it also came in the overall contribution of the Springboks wearing black and white.
Hansen was impressed with the quality of the Springboks, as players and as people. The respect that was there at the start of the week would have been stronger at the end of the week.
Meyer may not necessarily agree with me, but he was as much a winner against Fiji as Hansen was.
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