The selection of hardened veterans has benefited the Springboks, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day newspaper.
The Springboks have never before had such balance in squad selections, when it comes to experience and youth. They have also never had such depth.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, through intent and at times default, has exposed a new-look national team to the world over the last three years, but he has also ensured the best of the veterans have enjoyed consistent exposure as he works towards finalising a World Cup squad in which all 30 players are equally capable of starting in a World Cup play-off match.
The best of the 2011 World Cup Springboks are still around, with the experienced marauders playing a variety of roles within the squad. Some are still good enough to start, some provide greater impact with limited game time and in certain instances the value of the player is as much in the hands-on mentoring and tutoring of the next generation within a squad context.
Meyer, at some point since 2012, has picked an entirely new backline and introduced a group of loose forwards and locks to international rugby. He has also worked at the depth within the front row.
Meyer has refused to be restricted by age or geography. Good enough has always been old enough for the Bok coach.
Test rugby is not a young man’s game. It's a game about finding the balance between hardened veterans and youngsters who inject enthusiasm and ensure the older brigade never get comfortable or complacent.
Meyer has also recognised that Test rugby is a game played by 23 and no longer 15. The demands of the game are such that rarely do the 15 that start, ever finish a Test. There are those players whose value to the team is the damage they can cause in an impact capacity. These players are as crucial to the result as those who get to start.
The game is about 23 players and not a starting XV.
The strength of the All Blacks at the 2011 World Cup and in their 40 wins in their last 43 Tests has been the quality of players wearing numbers 16-23.
Significantly, this was the Springboks’ greatest weapon against Australia at Newlands. I don’t know of any current international side that could boast a forwards replacement bench that included Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger. Wow!
And did they provide the necessary impact when introduced in the last quarter.
Australian captain Michael Hooper acknowledged afterwards that his team was just not good enough to match the power, physicality and pace of the Springboks in the last quarter.
Burger was immense, Du Plessis contributed massively and Botha was huge in the muscle he gave to any collision.
Among the backs, halfbacks Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie were equally potent on introduction and only the All Blacks can relate to a wing switch when one World Cup winner (in Bryan Habana) is replaced by another in JP Pietersen.
Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Pieter-Steph du Toit are a contingent that, if fit, will go to the World Cup in England next year. None were available to play Australia in Cape Town.
There are others close to selection, of varying ages and experience.
The player depth is world class and the Boks, over three years, have improved in many areas, specifically at the ruck situation. The tactical kicking continues to be an ongoing project, as is the mindset to back themselves with ball in hand.
The Boks, at times, were predictable with ball in hand in the first 40 minutes as they attempted to play a game that focused on keeping the ball and working the phases.
They were lateral and often looked uncomfortable, especially when Hooper slowed down the recycled ball. The premeditated plan also made defending easier for the Wallabies, as their wingers were often up close in defence because they knew the Boks were not going to kick.
Handré Pollard, so comfortable on the ball and strong on attack when taking the ball flat, played to a pre-determined plan in the opening half, and while the Boks rarely threatened on attack, they did force the Wallabies to make tackles.
And the fatigue of having to tackle told in the final quarter when the Bok replacements dominated the tired legs and minds of those Wallabies who played through the 80 minutes.
The game of rugby is played over 80 minutes and what made the performance special was that the Boks played until the 80th minute and were ruthless in scoring two tries in the final four minutes to add a bonus point to the victory.
I don’t subscribe to the view that the last flourish flattered the victors. It’s not when you do the damage over the 80; it’s that the damage gets done.
Victor Matfield showed the tremendous value of experience. Forget that he is 37. Pollard was good. Forget that he is 20.
And Jean de Villiers, as captain, reminded everyone of his qualities as a leader and a player.
Age is not a factor – and it should never be. It’s more role definition, and in this particular match the role definition was accurate and those tasked with those roles did them to perfection.
Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images