The Springboks produced their most efficient and enjoyable performance in a year. This was more like it South Africa.
France were inferior in quality of player, style and application. The visitors will be stronger in Durban’s second Test when their captain and seven other regulars return, but they still won’t be good enough to force the series into a decider.
South Africa were very good in Pretoria and Warren Whiteley’s influence in his international captaincy debut was obvious. Whiteley leads with calm and enthusiasm and having the core of his regional Super Rugby Lions teammates would have helped settle the skipper’s nerves.
It was an impressive Springbok performance, more so when you consider what was delivered in the guise of a Springbok team in 2016.
Allister Coetzee, at the helm of the disastrous 2016 season, asked for a clean slate and for renewed optimism from the South African support base. He was given this and fortunately his team provided a performance to return the goodwill among the South African rugby public.
Less than 30 000 watched the Springboks beat France, which is the second lowest attendance in Pretoria for a Springbok Test. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to write the people had spoken after the eight Test defeats in 2016.
It also wouldn’t be inaccurate to record the players also spoke with the necessary presence in dismantling France.
Now the public in Durban needs to also speak. The last time the Springboks played there they were humiliated 57-15 against the All Blacks.
This French team are not the All Blacks and the match is an opportunity for an on-field apology from those wearing green and gold. Get to Durban because if Pretoria was an appetizer then the second Test will be the main course in South Africa righting the wrongs of 2016.
Coetzee has copped it in every column I have written but he is deserving of as much applause as his coaching assistants and players for the victory. Coetzee, after all, selected his support staff, his captain and also the match 23
Coetzee, as I wrote pre the Test, got it right in his Lions-loaded selections and in the various combinations for the series opener.
He also got it right in the way he managed his substitutes and all of them had an influence on South Africa’s sustained dominance throughout the match.
There was a control present to the Springboks and the passion was not simply a frantic expression of nationalism.
The Springboks played rugby with simplicity, intensity and intelligence.
Whiteley’s manner and demeanor dictated so much of this on-field approach.
Individually, Malcolm Marx has to be singled out because his opening twenty minutes was the equal of Bismarck du Plessis in his prime.
Marx was explosive in general play but he was also strong in the set piece and in doing his basics.
A feature of the Boks was how well they did the basics.
France are not a team renowned for winning series’s away from home. They’re more a rugby nation whose players target one famous away victory on tour. Durban is the one they’ll have earmarked, so the Springboks will have to be as controlled and as efficient to secure the series with a Test to go.
The Springboks kept it simple in their exit strategy, varied their attack according to the situation and physically had the edge in the collisions.
The halfbacks Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies controlled the match and the four tries scored could easily have been six or seven.
France offered nothing because they weren’t good enough and the Springboks simply were too good.
More of the same in Durban please Mr Whiteley and your charges.
South African rugby needs all the good news it can get and it also needs recognition when the national team fronts and delivers.
Give the Springboks this recognition for what happened in Pretoria and allow this team to live in the moment and be judged on what they produce in that moment.
It felt good to watch a Springbok team look the part, just like it made for great viewing watching the British and Irish Lions put the squeeze on the Crusaders and win an absorbing match 12-3 in Christchurch.
Rugby is a game that should embrace contrasting styles and the Lions versus the All Blacks will be a series made even more appealing because of differing playing philosophy.
The Lions, against the Crusaders, looked like a good rugby team. The Springboks, in beating France, played like a very good rugby team. Neither the Lions nor the Boks looked or played like the All Blacks.
Amen to that because variety is the spice of international rugby and that spice needs the Springboks to be hot. Equally it requires the British and Irish Lions to be series contenders whenever they tour.
*This column first appeared in Business Day Newspaper, June 12, 2017