Springboks met own standard

The Springboks' win against Samoa was emphatic but not out of the ordinary, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

Social media was fun on Saturday night. The Springboks had earlier in the evening confirmed they were at the World Cup and weren’t intent on premature departure. Most supporters were euphoric. Some were relieved.

Transformation wasn’t credited with four of the six tries. Transformation can only be cursed in defeat. In victory, the Boks are South Africans. It’s unfortunate but it’s not going to change in the next six weeks.

The rugger buggers declared they’d never lost faith in the potency of the Boklash. Yup, it was one of those beautiful South African rugby Saturday nights. Everyone came out to caution the All Blacks.

The Boks, said many, don’t know how to lose. Japan, a week ago, never happened. I loved it.

The minority may still own the game but they’ve even convinced the converted among the majority that it’s about the Bokke, the boertjies and a battle cry of ‘Moer hulle’. And moer the Samoans the Boks did.

The Samoans, a third of their 15 picked from two families, three of whom where raised and schooled in New Zealand’s West Auckland’s Massey High, offered a war dance that lacks the aggression and threatre of New Zealand’s haka. It’s a challenge from a warrior to an opponent, but it's more vibrant than violent. Then again that’s the island hospitality.

The Samoans are wonderful people. They are generally very spiritual and humble. The men that represent the rugby interests are brutes in the tackle, but gentlemen at the final whistle.

They tackled hard, embraced the physicality of the occasion and were hopelessly outmuscled, outpassioned, out-thought, out-everything.

They didn’t have the Samurai War history. They didn’t have swords and they don’t know the chop tackle. They were direct and they were dealt with directly by a superior Springbok team that … well, played like a good Springbok team.

The good Bok teams in history have a standard. It looked like what we saw against Samoa: physicality, set-piece dominance, control and the only winner in gainline collisions.

The good and very good Bok teams of the amateur and professional eras have all had an imposing pack, quality halfbacks, a strong 12, wingers who could finish and a fullback who may not be the best defender but is among the best attackers.

But after Japan, it was as if the Bok revolution was born.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer thanked the Lord, as is his right, and then thanked the people of South Africa for never losing faith in his team. A week ago he apologised to those same South Africans for what had paraded as a Bok team.

I simply thanked Meyer for making seven changes to the imposters whose infamy will always be Japan and for finally picking what he believed was the best available Bok team. Meyer had finally picked who he believed were the best options.

Long may it continue – or at least may the definitive selections last another six matches.

The cliché is a wounded Bok is a dangerous animal. The converse is a complacent Bok is easy game. Long may this Bok squad stay wounded – again for at least six matches.

The Boks, in a 100-plus years of Test rugby, have won 63% of their games. Often, among the 37% of those Japanese-like days consigned to a blur, defeat has been a pattern of the calm after the storm of a colossal backs-to-the-wall win.

But Saturday night was not a time to remind anyone of history or of Samoa’s limitations. It was, as I tweeted, a time for cheer and beer.

Sunday was for rest and reverence and Monday was for perspective. So here goes.

The Boks were damn good against a team who in eight previous losing matches against the Boks had averaged 12 points and conceded 48. Perspective is in Saturday’s score, where 46 played six. It was emphatic but not out of the ordinary.

And the fact that the Boks are again being spoken of as the toughest challenge to the All Blacks at this World Cup is also not out of the ordinary. It is the way it has always been. It is the way it should be.

The win against Samoa emphasised just how awful the performance against Japan had been; and just how wrong the starting XV selections had been.

The apologies have been made for the embarrassment of Japan. Hopefully those who did the on-field apologising against Samoa will now be entrusted to make the on-field World Cup statement over the next six weeks.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images