The Springboks have built quality in depth in key positions ahead of the World Cup, writes RYAN VREDE.
At the start of the Rugby Championship I feared the Springboks would regress in terms of results because of the sheer number of first-choice players missing. Any team stripped of the quality they were could reasonably be expected to, at best, stall in their development. No doubt New Zealand, Australia and Argentina would have looked at the situation and felt they would face a less potent version of the Springboks.
However, while their relative inexperience cost them in some big moments in the campaign, they were never a soft target. Indeed the deputies generally acquitted themselves well. Francois Hougaard looked a different player when relieved of tactical-kicking responsibilities and encouraged to play the high-tempo, ball-in-hand style that suits his strengths. Jan Serfontein made a good transition from inside to outside centre and will be a better player for it.
Marcell Coetzee emerged as my young player of the tournament. He will surely become a first-choice player in the years after the World Cup and has the potential to grow into one of the greats of Springbok rugby. Handré Pollard and Pat Lambie both made telling contributions in the final fortnight of the competition. Schalk Burger showed that his class endures.
Lest we forget that Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe, Arno Botha and Pierre Spies will come into contention once more when they recover from injury. Frans Steyn may yet return, should he work through his differences with Saru, and Juan Smith will surely benefit from having another club season under his belt. The depth is there.
The nature of the Springbok win on Saturday was only trumped by the fact that they did it with a clutch of first-choice players missing. Fourie du Preez, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Jaque Fourie would all start in Heyneke Meyer's team if fit, and to best the world champion All Blacks shorn of the services of that calibre of player amplifies how special the feat is.
A year ago Meyer would have been far less certain about his squad's strength in depth – a critical characteristic for teams hoping to mount strong assaults generally and, more specifically, at the World Cup. The tournament in England is a year away now and Meyer should have a fairly clear picture of the 30 men who will make that trip. In it he can boast backup players either equals of the starters or highly competent replacements that won't significantly diminish the team's potency should they be required to start.
The steady build of such depth was the sub-plot in the main piece this year. In world rugby, only the All Blacks can match the Springboks in this regard. As if a victory over the Blacks wasn't enough reason to celebrate, let this aspect of their development fuel your joy.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images