With their performance in Perth the Springboks showed the world what total rugby is supposed to look like.
The term is rugby jargon for a side that poses a multi-faceted threat to their opposition – the ability to play directly with the forwards, kick tactically for field position or run sides ragged in the back division. On Saturday in Perth the Springboks produces a ruthlessly effective hybrid of all of those approaches.
The Wallabies had absolutely no response. No side in the world would have, such was the excellence and brutal efficiency with which the Springboks went about systematically ripping the soul out of a injury ravaged but talented team.
The difference on the scoreboard was seven points, not emphatic on the surface, but if the Wallabies were honest in their assessment (and it seems by their media offerings that they have been) they will acknowledge that they were comprehensively outplayed by a side at the peak of their power.
Late tries by Matt Giteau and Lachie Turner served only to deceive those who never watched the Test, or those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the brilliance of the Springboks at present, or indeed the fragility of a Wallabies side in the process of adapting to a new coaching philosophy, into thinking that this was a closely-fought affair. It wasn’t.
A fairer reflection of just how much better the Springboks were would have been the 32-13 scoreline when Morne Steyn kicked his final penalty of the evening. At that point they had schooled their hosts in total rugby, something the coaching staff have been aspiring towards since the beginning of their tenure.
The process has been painful at times. In 2008 the Springboks produced an ugly and ineffective model of total rugby – showing little appreciation for laying an attacking platform through their forwards, and looking to blitz their opposition with an expansive approach. When they treasured possession and played to their strengths last season it was a foretaste of what they’ve achieved relatively consistently in 2009. Now it’s become the norm.
However, it has be stressed that the Springboks haven’t broken new ground. At the 2007 World Cup nobody could cope with their ability to transition between differing approaches depending on the match situation and/or the strengths and weaknesses of their opposition. For example, they smashed Argentina in the semi-final by attacking them in the wide channels, then reverted to a relatively pragmatic approach in the final against England.
What they have managed to do is rekindle their ability to slice with the rapier and bludgeon with the battering ram, and are arguably better at it now than they were then because of the personnel coach Peter de Villiers, his assistants and the selectors have identified to bolster what was an already formidable unit in 2007.
Notwithstanding the significant role accurate and punishing defence has played in their recent success, they can only become better from an attacking perspective the more confident they become in their ability to explore various avenues of attack.
That is a scary prospect for their opposition.
By Ryan Vrede