There should be renewed optimism at the manner in which the Springboks' series-clinching win against Wales was achieved, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Willie le Roux continues to flourish at fullback for the Springboks and Victor Matfield’s international comeback in the past month has been so good it is as if he has never been gone.
Le Roux, in Nelspruit, provided the enthusiasm, energy and attacking skills to inspire the Boks' attack and Matfield, at 37 years old, added the calm when a less experienced leader may have crumbled with the Boks trailing by 13 points.
Typically, in a South African social media context, the 31-30 win against Wales, was condemned as the effort of a team that had been overhyped and a team that was lucky to win.
The Boks were not lucky at all. They won the match more than Wales lost it and while the nature of the win was dramatic, it was also an emphatic statement that this Bok team has the ingredients to conjure up an attack from any field position and even more importantly they have the confidence to defend their line in the most trying of circumstance.
I didn’t expect Wales to offer much in Nelspruit. They were inferior in every aspect of the first Test in Durban. Physically they were given a beating and the Boks controlled the set piece and tempo of the game.
Thank goodness the visitors produced a contest in the second Test because it has allowed for realism in reflection, which is that while the Boks are a very good side they are as vulnerable as any other team if they come second in the tackle-ball situation.
Wales – and give them their due – were the more urgent in Nelspruit and the more committed in defensive line speed.
The Welsh lads played with conviction and the effort was as much a reminder of their qualities as international rugby players as it was an apology for the embarrassment of the no-show in Durban.
I did not think the Welsh players would find that something special to win in Nelspruit. The players were at the end of a demanding season and there was nothing in the Durban performance to suggest the Boks could lose. And I don’t think many within the Bok set-up would have disagreed with me, at least privately.
There had to be an element of complacency from the Bok players, simply because of how inferior the Welsh challenge had been a week earlier. But there was no lack of urgency from the Boks when the big moments had to be played.
Wales led 17-0 after 20 minutes and only the best teams come back from such a deficit to win. South Africa counts among one of the best, marginally off the world champion All Blacks.
It was the All Blacks who found themselves 19-0 down against Ireland in as many minutes in Dublin last December. And it was those All Blacks who scored a converted try in injury time to win 24-22.
The Boks' performance in Nelspruit was of a similar nature to the All Blacks in Dublin and in the first Test against England, when a 78th-minute try secured a 20-15 win.
The All Blacks, in Dublin and Auckland, were not allowed to settle and were physically second for most of those respective matches.
But the class of the All Blacks showed in how clinical they were when presented with a hint of an opportunity to produce the match-defining moment.
It was much the same with the Boks in Nelspruit when they scored 14 points within three minutes when the Welsh were reduced to 13 players.
The best teams strike at the hint of a numerical advantage and the best teams also back themselves to score from anywhere. The best teams also know how to defend their line with discipline as much as physical conviction.
The Boks were brilliant in how they fashioned the 14 points to turn the 13-point disadvantage into a one-point win. And defensively the players were monstrous in repelling a final three-minute Welsh attack that produced 19 phases but not one metre in a field position gain.
There shouldn’t be despair that the Boks won by just a point. Instead there should be renewed optimism at the manner in which the win was achieved.
The Boks, in Nelspruit, were no worse than the All Blacks were in Dublin (against Ireland) or in Auckland (against England) but they were just as good in how they got the win.
The best teams know how to win. Heyneke Meyer’s Boks are such a team.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images