White-hot Boks thrill

RYAN VREDE reports on a 31-8 victory for the Springboks over Australia at Loftus in which they produced the type of performance they hope will become commonplace.

The Springboks were good, but hold your unbridled praise. The result was not unexpected. This was the weakest Wallabies side the Springboks have faced in their last nine encounters, and at a venue they have never won at. The measure of these Springboks will come against the All Blacks in a week.

The Wallabies were never in this one, a brutal and organised defensive effort blunting their ambitions. It is in this facet of play that most Test matches will be won and lost. That the Wallabies scored once (through a slipped hit) gives me more joy than the bonus-point the Springboks earned.

And they could have and should have won by more, six missed kicks and host of squandered try-scoring chances ensuring that the scoreline flattered the Wallabies.

However, it would grossly remiss not to applaud this win, particularly since it provided reasons for optimism in some key areas.

Flyhalf Johan Goosen will have better Tests, but he certainly isn’t an impostor at this level. His tears during the anthem humanised the kid many what to believe has supernatural ability. He showed his rawness with two hooked penalties, too lateral a running line and poor option-taking at times. But he also stirred hope of a bright attacking future with a couple of linebreaks and generally slick play. He doesn’t have Henry Honiball’s defensive punch and will be targeted by their opposition, but he isn’t a defensive liability and his attacking skill makes up for what he lacks there.

Then there’s the Boondock Saints – Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen – who hunted in tandem, both outstanding at the gainline and on the deck. They lend the Springboks an air of menace and mongrel, with their efforts amplified by an industrious and highly effective pack.

What else? Ruan Pienaar looked composed and sharp. Andries Bekker was influential at the lineouts and in general play, Jaco Taute was impressive defensively in the most difficult channel for this discipline, and Bryan Habana reconfirmed that has left the fraud he was under Peter de Villiers behind him with a throwback effort.

And their much-maligned game plan? The tactical kicking was poor…when they did kick. This was a wholly different approach from the Springboks, a more expansive one than we’ve become used to. This doesn’t, however, herald the start of a bold new era from Heyneke Meyer’s men. The Wallabies allowed them to play in this manner. The Blacks will demand a tighter approach. They are some way off mastering either, but there are signs that should encourage.

Their rolling maul is unmatched by any team in the game, and it was from this platform that they opened the scoring, with a touch of tactical intelligence (two decoy runners) creating space for Zane Kirchner to score in the corner. Pienaar had taken over the goal-kicking responsibility from Goosen and duly banked the touchline conversion.

The Springboks were in business again seven minutes later after Habana finished a disjointed move that went right then snapped left. Pienaar’s conversion attempt struck the post and the teams went down the tunnel with the hosts leading 14-3, Kurtley Beale’s penalty all the Wallabies could muster in the face of an immense defensive effort.

The Wallabies huffed and puffed after the restart but the Springboks killed their ambition superbly, first Louw peeling off the back of another unstoppable rolling maul to score, then Habana catching them napping with a quick lineout feed to Adriaan Strauss, who drew a defender and offloaded to put the winger away.

The Springboks’ defensive intensity and precision tapered off in the closing stages, allowing the visitors to breach their tryline, but they never seriously threatened a comeback. With time nearly up the Springboks launched another expansive assault, this time Louw finding Habana with a left-pass most elite scrumhalves would be proud to boast.

The Springboks will believe this performance is a good example of what they can achieve when things click, and they’ll be right. But there is a sterner examination ahead in the form of the world champions. For now, however, they deserve to be lauded on the strength of this showing.

By Ryan Vrede, in Pretoria

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