Ugly win gives Boks hope

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the Springboks did what they had to do against a makeshift All Blacks side in PE.

Take hope from man and you kill him. South African rugby fans, Springbok players and the embattled Springbok management again have hope after battering the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth. These Boks are not yet dead.

Defeat against a second string All Blacks (coach Graham Henry made 11 changes to the side that beat Australia in Auckland) would have been catastrophic for any World Cup defence. Defeat would have crushed the spirits of South Africans and the players. The Boks simply had to win – and they did by dominating the primary phases, playing for field position and kicking points whenever on offer.

The game plan was simple, effective and as many told me afterwards the obvious blueprint to winning World Cups. After all South Africa has two of those golden trophies and New Zealand hasn’t seen one since 1987.

The All Blacks are dead. Long live the kings of world rugby, South Africa. I heard that a couple of times in Port Elizabeth on Saturday night. As I said there is hope again in our rugby, and typically there is arrogance that South Africa has had it all under control for the last four years despite losing nine of their last 12 Tri-Nations matches and winning 59% of all matches.

As I said, there is South African hope – and thank goodness for that.

Equally there should also be realism, at least from the South African with half a brain cell, that beating a makeshift All Blacks team at home is not a dry run for a World Cup semi-final against the first choice New Zealanders in Auckland.

I wrote last week that South Africa’s best hope of a successful defence is that some other team knocks over Australia or New Zealand, as happened in 2007. Given there is hope again in our rugby, why not another miracle? After all God may defend New Zealand but he favours us when it comes to Rugby World Cups.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry selected a pack in Port Elizabeth that lacked mongrel, leadership and the desire to meet the brutal Boks in those dark alleys. I picked the Boks to win by 12 points (no hindsight needed when it aired on Keotv on www.keo.co.za on Friday and on GoodHopeFM radio on Saturday morning) and based my confidence on a pack not good enough to dominate the Boks, a loose-trio lacking a fetcher to compete with Heinrich Brussouw and a New Zealand backline that would play high risk, but would never have the forward platform for it to be effective.

New Zealand’s backs demanded cohesion, composure and direction from flyhalf Colin Slade who fluffed every kick, most passes and all decision-making. When he limped off after 60 minutes it was 60 minutes too late from a New Zealand perspective.

New Zealand has flyhalf problems if they lose the incomparable Dan Carter before or during the Rugby World Cup.

South Africa will have problems the moment they come up against a pack whose players stand their ground. In Port Elizabeth the Boks physicality, led by Bismarck du Plessis and Bakkies Botha, allowed for control and meant flyhalf Morne Steyn could play as if at a training run. New Zealand never had the flow, go forward or momentum to challenge Steyn’s defensive frailties. It will be different when those 11 players, led by Richie McCaw, return.

Steyn again is the king of 10s … at least he was in Port Elizabeth after scoring all 18 points. I don’t agree. I’d still play the more complete and physically imposing Butch James at No 10 in the World Cup, but when selectors and coaches don’t quite know what it is they want the lasting memory is the latest one and a full-strength New Zealand, Australia, France and England won’t mind fronting Steyn.

The All Blacks, in the context of the match, made 21 linebreaks and fluffed six tries. South Africa never created one try-scoring chance, but relied on Steyn’s boot to punish New Zealand playing all the rugby in their own half.

This was desperation stuff from the Boks. It was ugly but who cares. They had to win.

I just wonder how many South Africans believe the Boks peaked in Port Elizabeth and produced their World Cup final, in terms of game plan and performance. Just checking because had the All Blacks somehow won I know South Africans would have excused the defeat on New Zealand peaking too soon and showing their hand too soon. Yes I am being facetious.

I have always rubbished talk that there is no such thing as a poor All Blacks team. The side that started on Saturday was as vulnerable as the bunch of plodders South Africa took to New Zealand and only marginally better than that which lost twice in South Africa in 2009. South Africa’s A team beat New Zealand’s B team in South Africa. It is the way it should always be.