The Springboks’ back-to-back wins over England, coupled with the unifying achievements of Siya Kolisi and Beast Mtawarira, have provided South African rugby with a much-needed lift, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Of course, there will be those who caution against getting too carried away after just two victories over an admittedly unsettled English side. However, for the glass-half-full section of the rugby-loving community, there will be an entirely justified appreciation for the progress that has been made over the past fortnight.
It’s during this period that the Boks have very quickly reignited a feel-good factor in South African sport.
In the opening Test, Kolisi united a nation as he led out the Springboks for the first time. For many friends, family and colleagues, it was a moment that resonated on an emotional level that went beyond just a sporting moment to remember.
A week later, Mtawarira led the team out as he celebrated his 100th Test cap. It was another poignant occasion in South African sport as a Bloemfontein crowd of over 40,000 responded with a chant of ‘Beeeasssstttttt’ that reverberated around the stadium like rolling thunder.
For the English players gathered on the field at the time, it was the sort of emotive moment that must have left them feeling more than just a little rattled.
The milestones for Kolisi and Mtawarira have served as timely reminders of the power of sport, but the occasions have also been made that much more special by the nature of the Boks’ on-field performances.
When removing emotion, and making pure judgements on the rugby that has been witnessed, the signs of progress, strong selections and forward-thinking provide further justifiable reasons for optimism.
This past Saturday, the Boks’ victory was largely fashioned on good, old-fashioned physicality and grunt work. One memorably monstrous rolling maul, a penalty try earned from a bulldozing scrum and several massive hits on defence sent out a clear message that this Springbok side is up for the fight.
The Springbok forward pack deserves plenty of plaudits for the manner in which they led the charge at Free State Stadium. It was an irrepressible effort made all the more impressive when one considers that the likes of Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley are all absent due to injury.
Fitness permitting, Erasmus looks set to be increasingly spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting his forwards for next year’s World Cup. Take a gander at these options below, and how little there could be to choose between them.
Front row: 1 Beast Mtawarira/Steven Kitshoff, 2 Malcolm Marx/Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Wilco Louw/Trevor Nyakane/Thomas du Toit
Second row: 4 Eben Etzebeth/RG Snyman, 5 Franco Mostert/Lood de Jager
Back row: 6 Siya Kolisi/Jaco Kriel, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez/Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen/Warren Whiteley
These are just some of the options up front that look increasingly appealing for Erasmus, while he has also begun to build a highly-talented backline that has demonstrated an abundance of potential over the first two Tests.
Of course, in the coming months, the Boks are set to face far sterner tests of their character and credentials in the Rugby Championship – and particularly when playing away from home – but there is no getting away from just how encouraging the early portents have been in this June series.
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