Winning the Rugby Championship can only bode well for Rassie Erasmus’ men, who appear to be conditioned and primed to enter the World Cup with a winning chance, writes former Bok hooker JAMES DALTON.
Rugby is about winning, it’s not a personality contest, and with our best mix of international and local players, the Springboks are back to winning ways. In a great turnaround from previous years, the Springboks have begun their World Cup year undefeated and with a Rugby Championship trophy to show.
By the Boks’ final match against Argentina, they fielded a 23 that seemed established as the leading players to fulfill these roles come the World Cup, bar perhaps two or three selections.
South Africa’s smashing of the Argentinians, with Handre Pollard shooting the lights out with a 31 point-performance, showed a collective improvement from their first outing of the year against Australia, who by statistics they were expected to beat.
They then still built on their performance against the All Blacks, which gave them a draw in Wellington.
However, unlike in the All Blacks Test, where the Boks were out the blocks in the first half and faded by the second, they seemed to start off slowly against Argentina and only came into the match later on.
This inconsistency in intensity from the kick-off needs to be addressed by the World Cup as we can’t afford an ineffectual 30-40 minutes in a knockout environment.
But, the Boks are back to their best when it comes to their traditional strengths: the lineouts fired against Argentina, their defence has been strong, with the rush tactic effective all tournament long, while the Bok scrum hands down dominated the Rugby Championship, with their showing this past Saturday possibly the best I’ve seen in the last 10 years.
While we can attribute this to good conditioning and structure within the side, we are also currently blessed with an interchangeable set of world-class front rowers and equal depth in our locks and loosies.
We can also draw confidence from the fact that while we had less possession and made more tackles than Argentina, we were effective with ball in hand, making 382 metres from 113 carries, versus their 294 metres to 131 carries. This was aptly reflected in a scoreboard that read five tries to two.
While our defence has been a strength, we need to remain guarded and effective in its execution. The rush tactic worked to our benefit for most of the tournament, but we were caught turning and chasing a few times against Australia and Argentina as players watched the ball and not the man.
A player guilty of this is Makazole Mapimpi, who although athletic and refined with ball in hand, rushes up and cuts inside too often on defence. We also can’t be so quick to kick the ball away every time we find ourselves on attack from a turnover.
Turnover ball is one of the best chances to capitalise on a disorganised defence and too often we simply hand back possession to the opponents through aimless kicks – Cheslin Kolbe being a culprit of this aside from his otherwise sound performances.
With this being said, Rassie’s 2019 Boks seem to be aware of their roles and positions within the team, and the management seems to have ironed out most weaknesses and emphasised the strengths leading up to Japan.
While we can draw a lot of confidence from an undefeated start to the year, we must bear in mind that we drew even with the All Blacks from a brave but lucky chip kick, and beat an Australian side coming into the season licking their wounds.
There is a lot to be excited about as the Boks prepare for their World Cup opener, but a lot to be careful of too when coming up against an All Blacks side that will be raring to go following their battering at the hands of Australia this past weekend.
Photo: EPA/Jan Touzeau