Boks showed tremendous character against All Blacks
In last week's column I called for a huge improvement from the Springboks after they played against the All Blacks in Albany and, at Newlands on Saturday, they produced an unbelievable performance.
The home side will be hugely disappointed they didn't win the Test match and won't be celebrating coming close to beating the All Blacks. However, Allister Coetzee's charges can extract plenty of positives owing to the fact that they not only lived with the All Blacks, but put the visitors under sustained periods of pressure during a match which spanned 90 minutes. The Boks enjoyed 56% of possession, which in today's day and age is substantial.
The coaching group should get a huge amount of credit for understanding what does and doesn't work against the All Blacks and, in terms of tactics, they hit the nail on the head in Cape Town. The Boks are comfortable playing a confrontational, direct game and coupled with their set-piece firing on all cylinders - the men in green and gold won nine lineouts and seven scrums - they were able to build phases and ask questions of the All Black defence. The Springboks deserve kudos for a highly credible performance.
The Boks showed a tremendous amount of character and proved we are still a strong rugby nation. To a man, everybody played well and we can now see that the 57-0 drubbing in Albany was a blip on the radar. It's disappointing that the Springboks didn't finish second in the Rugby Championship, but the bottom line is that South Africa never lost to Argentina or Australia and ran the All Blacks close during the return leg.
There is now a good base from which to build, and we need to keep this group together and consolidate. Other teams could have capitulated after recording their heaviest-ever defeat, but the Springboks didn't. The Boks exorcised their Albany demons in the best possible way by putting in a character-filled performance in Cape Town. We can go round in circles and constantly look to find fault, but the reality is that the players have now delivered.
Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies have come in for criticism, but it's easy to nitpick. Cronje is a solid performer and Jantjies has played some unbelievable games and doesn't get enough credit. Cronje and Jantjies are clearly the first-choice halfback pairing for this Springbok management team and there is much to be said for backing players. Damian de Allende, dismissed for a late charge on Lima Sopoaga, is another who falls into that category. The red card was far from ideal, but it wasn't the reason the Boks lost. The hosts had their opportunities and they didn't take them. In turn, the All Blacks' unbelievable confidence in their abilities saw them prevail at Newlands and end the Rugby Championship undefeated.
Nonetheless, they would have felt they were in a very tough Test. They are a world-class outfit and a brilliant group of players, but it's uncomfortable for them to chase a game because they aren't often in that situation.
The Springboks didn't quite get it right in terms of the final result, but managed to put the All Blacks under unfamiliar pressure. It didn't end up in a victory, but it reaped good reward.