The Springboks will need to be mentally prepared for their Rugby Championship matches in Australia and New Zealand, writes JOHN PLUMTREE.
The Springboks impressed me during the first two Tests against England in June. The physicality of the Bok forwards was too much for the tourists and the momentum they created helped Handré Pollard and the backs.
The Boks are playing with higher risk under Rassie Erasmus, which leads to higher reward. He clearly encourages his players to be inventive and have a go, while doing the basics well.
England played some good rugby in those first two Tests, but couldn’t maintain their intensity. Discipline also let them down, with certain individuals conceding silly penalties and yellow cards.
England blew leads in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, but I’m not convinced that playing at altitude had much to do with it. They travelled from Durban, where they were based throughout the tour, to the highveld late in the week, which is what Natal used to do when I played for them under coach Ian McIntosh, and we won plenty of games up there.
I liked the way Erasmus used his front rowers during the series. I rate loosehead Steven Kitshoff highly and Thomas du Toit is growing in confidence as a tighthead, so bringing them off the bench early in the second half is a big boost for the Boks. Malcolm Marx will be back at hooker in the Rugby Championship, which is a scary thought for the opposition.
Duane Vermeulen added a lot of steel to the Bok pack with his ball-carrying, tackling and work over the ball. He seems to be relaxed and in a good space, which I think has a lot to do with playing overseas, away from the pressures of South African rugby. It’s a big pity for the Boks that he won’t be available for the Rugby Championship because of his Japanese commitments.
Faf de Klerk’s stint in England seems to have rejuvenated him and his running game around the rucks was excellent. Handré Pollard has benefited from playing for a well-organised Bulls team and appears to have established himself as the Boks’ first-choice flyhalf.
Erasmus has good midfield options in Damian de Allende (who is currently injured), André Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel and it will be interesting to see who he settles on for the Rugby Championship.
I love S’bu Nkosi (who is set to return from injury near the end of the Rugby Championship) and Aphiwe Dyantyi on the Bok wings. They are dangerous with ball in hand and proved they can make an attacking impact at Test level. However, they do need to improve a lot on defence when it comes to reading the opposition attack and communicating. With two young wings, it was important for the Boks to have an experienced fullback to help them out, and Willie le Roux performed that role well.
While the Boks showed a lot of promise in June, Erasmus will need to keep his players’ feet on the ground. It’s one thing to beat an England team at the end of their season and another to play the All Blacks in New Zealand and the Wallabies in Australia. Mental preparation will be important for the Boks, as they will need to believe they can win away from home.
I thought the series between the Wallabies and Ireland was the best of the three big series in June. All three Tests were close, physical and played at an unbelievable intensity. Ireland have become a world-class team under coach Joe Schmidt and to win a first series in Australia since 1979 is a massive achievement. The Wallabies are improving and will take a lot of confidence from the series even though they lost it 2-1.
In New Zealand, France proved to be competitive for the first 30 or 40 minutes of each Test but were gone by the 50th or 60th minute because they couldn’t cope with the speed and accuracy of the All Blacks. While the All Blacks won the series 3-0, they were pretty average at times and will be looking for an improved performance in the Rugby Championship.
– Plumtree is head coach of the Hurricanes