The Springboks have experience and rugby intelligence to go with their physicality, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day column.
Not enough credit is being given to the South Africans. The All Blacks said it after taking a beating in Bloemfontein and Durban. And the Wallabies said it after taking a pasting in Cape Town.
Both visiting camps agreed that it was a darn good Bok side, certainly the best South African side they had played in the last decade.
South African supporters also need to start recognising the quality of this side while they are still together because there will come a time in the future when we yearn for the quality of player wearing green at the moment, the leadership of John Smit, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Jean de Villiers and the no frills kind of wins we have seen in the last three weekends.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers a year ago wanted to tamper with the Boks’ winning formula. He berated Jake White’s World Cup winners as robots that couldn’t think for themselves and said it was unacceptable that the ball never went to left wing Bryan Habana in the World Cup final.
De Villiers’s ego undid him as much as the Wallabies and All Blacks did a year ago. This year De Villiers reverted to the formula that works for this particular bunch of players and he has enjoyed three convincing home wins against the All Blacks and Wallabies. For that he needs to be applauded and not mocked.
Had De Villiers continued with the naive notion that the guys play what is in front of them without any structure or framework the results this year would have been very different. The Boks may have scored more tries, but so too would the opposition.
The dynamic of this Bok side feeds off structure and knowing who does what and when. They rely on brutal defence, the most imposing lineout in the game and a halfback kicking game that can’t be matched at the moment. The Boks are at their most potent when they keep it simple on attack and play risk-free rugby. They are a side blessed with the players who can turn defence into attack.
The team’s greatest attribute is its physicality, but what this side has more than any South African team since readmission is experience and rugby intelligence to go with the physicality. Each guy knows what to do and that is the result of most of them being together for six years.
Neither New Zealand nor Australia wanted to look foolish on attack but incredible defence and the most accurate field-kicking game turned these professionals into bumbling schoolboys. Defence is a skill, as much as attack is, and one of the most difficult skills to master is the line kicking game.
It may not look pretty, but it is effective, and I for one want a Bok team that wins consistently playing to its strengths rather than one that appears to entertain, but merely plays into the grateful and winning hands of Australia and New Zealand.
Fourie du Preez’s ability to read the game and Habana and JP Pietersen’s chase of the kick spells intelligent rugby and not boring rugby. If New Zealand and Australia had players with those skills they’d be playing it exactly the same way.
The lineout duo of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha reduced New Zealand and Australia’s lineout to rubble and that took all the potency out of the visitors’ attack.
New Zealand and Australia rely on the lineout as their primary platform of attack. Against the Boks this was never possible.
Springbok captain John Smit is right when he says that by winning the home games all his team has done is hold serve, and that the tournament will be determined by how many games they win on tour.
There has been no premature celebration from the Boks, but the criticism that they are still short of being the complete side is nonsense. They have shown they can play the most extravagant rugby. Take the effort against Samoa at the 2007 World Cup and against the Wallabies in Johannesburg last year.
When it is on they have the qualities to put on a show. For now they have shown us just what a quality side they are in playing a brand that was necessary to hold serve, and that needs to be commended and not dismissed as players and coaches lacking ambition.