Most great teams are marked by a great flyhalf. A truly great Springbok team will be marked by Fourie du Preez.
The Bok scrumhalf produced another match-winning performance in Saturday’s 32-25 victory over the Wallabies. Sharp decision making, accurate kicking and that beautiful pass were all on show.
Over a 50-Test period, Du Preez has proved himself to be a rare blend of natural talent and unnatural application.
Eddie Jones told keo.co.za earlier in the week that Australia and New Zealand would employ the same strategy if they had the players. Everybody thought he referred exclusively to the behemoths masquerading as South African forwards, not the diminutive and unassuming figure wearing No 9. Would Graham Henry or Robbie Deans alter their thinking if they had Du Preez at their disposal?
He’s won every medal possible with the Bulls and Boks, and you get the feeling that if Du Preez stays fit up until and including the 2011 World Cup, South Africa could set another precedent in defending their world title.
The kick-chase strategy wouldn’t boast its recent success had one of Du Preez’s understudies been directing proceedings. As seen for the Stormers, Ricky Januarie is not nearly accurate enough as a kicking scrumhalf. Ruan Pienaar would be an option, but where he falls short is his inability to control proceedings like the Bok incumbent.
While they have him, the Boks should cherish him. He’s been the key man in this year’s Tri-Nations campaign just as he was one of the most influential figures at the 2007 World Cup. When the Boks officially capture the Tri-Nations crown, he should be the first to take a bow.
Lachie Turner will be having nightmares after Saturday’s game. So too Richard Brown. The former was exposed when Du Preez’s high-hanging was knocked on, and Bryan Habana scored from that bumble. The latter made several errors from Du Preez kicks, and South Africa earned some great field position as a result.
The Boks’ first two tries should never have come as a surprise, although some sectors have described their efforts in Perth as more expansively-inclined. They got themselves into position, and when the hosts’ impeded, Du Preez merely took his opportunity. They found themselves in a favourable position again, and from a strong scrum, Jaque Fourie sliced through a porous Aussie defensive line to score under the posts.
It’s hardly expansive rugby when you kick from your own half to win field position and then attack from within opposition territory. Coaches and players who have a handle on the new laws have preached this from the get-go. Running rugby is not dead, it just needs to be played in opposition territory.
As mentioned, the Boks’ third try was a product of Du Preez’s accurate garryowen. Kicked from within the Boks’ half, this up-and-under was successfully chased by Jean de Villiers who forced Hynes into error. Habana arrived at the right place at the right time.
Du Preez was involved in the fourth try when he wrapped around the Bok attack to put Habana through for his second. It shouldn’t surprise this was scored from deep within Aussie territory.
Where some reports have been right is that the Boks looked to play more expansively. They took more unnecessary risks, and against a better team, they would have been punished.
After moving to a 12-0 lead, they tried to run it from their own 22. The result? A 50-50 offload to Heinrich Brussow was spilled forward, and what should have been a routine catch and clearance from the lineout was turned into a prime attacking opportunity for the Wallabies.
It’s not the first time the Boks have made the mistake of shifting mindset. The game at Newlands saw South Africa replicating the haphazard brand of 2008 while the Wallabies had 13 men on the field. They had an opportunity to rack up 50 points but a lack of structure proved their undoing.
Hopefully the Boks will have learned their lesson from these lapses. When they play to their strengths, they prosper. In other words, if they focus on pummeling the opposition forwards into submission and then asking Du Preez to boot upfield, they’ll always benefit. When they attack from within opposition territory, they have the potential to score some beautiful tries.
The Tri-Nations is all but in the bag, but the Boks can be better. They should take this as a massive compliment.
By Jon Cardinelli