The Springboks have laid a solid foundation on which to build during the Rugby Championship, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Saturday night, there was yet another stark reminder of just how quickly the tide of public opinion can violently swing in just 80 minutes of Test rugby. Over the first fortnight of the England series, there was an undeniable swell of widespread optimism as the Boks produced two memorable comeback victories in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.
Yet, when the Springboks slipped to a meek defeat at a cold, wet Newlands on Saturday, it didn’t take long for social media’s keyboard warriors to point out that the win-record under Rassie Erasmus sits at just 50%.
There is little doubt, though, that Erasmus would have happily accepted a 2-1 series win over England if it had been offered to him earlier in the year.
Yes, the loss to Wales in Washington and the series-ending defeat to England have raised certain question marks, but Erasmus has made no secret of the fact that this period has been all about learning important lessons sooner rather than later.
In this regard, he will know that there is plenty to be encouraged by.
As pointed out by Eddie Jones, the Springboks have made a clear return to traditional South African strengths, which include a strong maul, sound set piece and renewed physicality.
At the conclusion of the series, the England coach said they had also been struck by the fact that the Boks are working much harder off the ball, while boasting talented, well-coached backs who can punish the opposition out wide.
This is the framework that the Boks can now start expanding on as they look to ensure that all the necessary structures are put in place by the time the 2019 World Cup rolls around.
Erasmus will have seen that Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard are his best bets in that all-important 9-10 combination, while the on- and off-field value of overseas-based players will now be clearer.
Over the course of the June series, newbies such as Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, RG Snyman, Aphiwe Dyantyi, S’bu Nkosi and Lukhanyo Am all proved that they can make the step up to Test rugby.
Erasmus should also be pleased by the options available to him in the front row – for one, Bongi Mbonambi produced some of his best rugby in a Bok jersey – while Pieter-Steph du Toit underlined his ability as a dynamic blindside flank.
These are just some of the positives that Erasmus can reflect on as attention now turns to the Rugby Championship, but the Bok boss was also spot on when he admitted that there is plenty still to work on ahead of that gruelling tournament.
He will know that there is still some uncertainty over the back-up depth available at halfback and in the midfield, while there is still space for a specialist openside flank to put up his hand for selection.
Young wingers such as Dyantyi and Nkosi displayed oodles of talent, but some work still needs to be done in terms of defensive decision-making and when it comes to the aerial game.
In both Washington and Cape Town, the Boks were also exposed when having to adjust to inclement conditions, and the coaching staff should now go to work on the tactical and technical improvements required.
The good news is that Erasmus will have more answers than questions following the four Tests in June. He’s tackled transformation with refreshing honesty, made some bold selections, backed the correct leaders, and found out more about which players are likely to sink or swim at Test level.
By and large, the correct building blocks have been put in place, and now it remains to be seen whether the Springboks’ next stage of development meets the required standards.
After all, the All Black and Wallabies are lying in wait with the aim of sending the rebuilding Boks crashing back down to earth.
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