JON CARDINELLI writes that the Springboks – for the first time in ages – successfully mixed brutal defence with scything attack. It’s a cocktail that will become more potent in the months to come.
What a difference a multi-skilled flyhalf makes. Johan Goosen, in his first start for the Boks, turned in a thrilling display at Loftus Versfeld.
The plaudits will be shared with a Bok pack that pummeled the Wallabies into submission, as well as with Ruan Pienaar, who shouldered much of the kicking responsibilities (for goal and tactical). But for option-taking, execution and innovation… there isn’t a superlative that does Goosen justice.
When last did we have reason to feel excited about a Bok team, and here I’m talking about playing style, not just the ability to grind out ugly wins consistently?
The game plan at Loftus wasn’t very different to what we’ve already witnessed in 2012. What did make all the difference was that the man starting at No 10 was able to use that forward platform to bring his backline into the game.
There have been some clinical forward performances this season, but none as complete as what was on show in Pretoria. The Bok lineout troubled that of the Wallabies, with Eben Etzebeth affecting several steals and Andries Bekker banking possession on the Boks ball.
The Boks won the collisions and this forced Wallabies playmakers like Kurtley Beale to play well behind the advantage line. At times the Wallabies crabbed across the field, and at other times they went backwards in search of space.
There was always a Bok forward flying up, looking to smother a would-be Aussie attacker. And on top of that, there was the threat of Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw.
Vermeulen and Louw affected some important breakdown turnovers. Louw in particular was successful in slowing the Wallabies’ ruck recycle to the point where the visitors battled for any significant attacking momentum. It was one of Louw’s finest performances in a Bok shirt.
This all translated into the perfect platform for Pienaar and Goosen, and the Bok halfback pairing didn’t waste this opportunity.
It wasn’t perfect – the Boks did leave a few tries on the park – but it was the intent, the ease with which men line Goosen cut the Wallabies’ line, that made Saturday’s performance so exciting to watch.
Suddenly men like Bryan Habana were in the game a lot more. Jean de Villiers was an attacking threat in that inside centre channel, and this too will go down as one of his more balanced showings.
The Boks scored two great tries in the first half, and looked to have created a third with De Villiers and Goosen combining to set up Zane Kirchner. It took a kamikaze-style tackle by Adam Ashley-Cooper to deny Kirchner his second try, a valiant effort that unfortunately forced Ashley-Cooper to leave the field.
As the Bok forwards began to enjoy more momentum, they began to look for the offload. Rarely have the Boks played with such confidence. Sometimes the offloads came off, and sometimes the Wallabies managed to spoil effectively and kill the go-forward.
I’m not suggesting it was the perfect debut for Goosen. He missed his first two shots at goal and subsequently surrendered the kicking duties.
There were examples of Goosen taking the wrong option on attack, but then that was to be expected of a 20-year-old in his first Test start. Overall, it was an encouraging performance by a player who, as he so emphatically stated at Loftus, has the ability to bring balance to the Boks.
Habana’s run-away try in the 61st minute put the result beyond doubt, and also banked a four-try bonus point. Again, this should serve as a marker, a sign that the Bok attack have progressed. From the stagnant side that struggled against Argentina in Cape Town to the complete package that thumped the Wallabies in Pretoria – it’s been quite a leap.
The quality of opposition was poor at Loftus, but give credit where it is due.
And rejoice. The evolution of the Bok playing pattern has finally begun.
By Jon Cardinelli, at Loftus Versfeld