Springboks’ report card: plenty to like

7 October 2013

While New Zealand secured the Castle Lager Rugby Championship with a 38-27 victory over the Springboks on Saturday, only the most disappointed of South African supporters would feel that the team is not on an upward trajectory.

South Africa’s coach Heyneke Meyer was both disappointed and encouraged after the game, telling the media: “We had a great Championship. There was a record score in Soweto, a first win in Mendoza, a great win in Brisbane and the biggest margin against Australia at Newlands.

“This is much better than last year and I think we improved tremendously. This team can go places.”

Rugby Championship standings

A year ago, the Boks finished third in the Rugby Championship, level on points with Australia, with 12, and with a positive points’ differential of only 11. In 2013, the Boks finished second, totalled 19 points, and enjoyed a positive points’ differential of 86.

Most tellingly, they scored 23 tries and conceded 13 this season, compared to scoring 12 and letting in 10 in 2012. In year two under Meyer, the South African offence has taken a huge step forward.

In the lead-up to the showdown at Ellis Park, it was pointed out that South Africa had scored 11 tries against New Zealand in their previous two outings against the All Blacks at the ground, back in 2004 and 2000. However, not many people believed the Springboks could secure a bonus point for scoring four tries against the reigning world champions. They were wrong.

A celebration of the game

With both teams prepared to attack and run the ball, using the width of the field, they produced a memorable encounter and a fantastic advertisement for the game of rugby. Most often, clashes between leading teams result in hesitant, defensive arm- wrestles. At Ellis Park, a celebration of the game unfolded.

“We gave everything on attack and did well. I am disappointed in our defence though. When you play the best team in the world you cannot afford poor defence. It did let us down tonight,” Meyer said.

“We have conceded one try per test match this year, so it is not the structure. Today the guys shot out of line perhaps because they were too keen to make big hits.

‘One of the best games’

“The guys came out firing and this was one of the best games I have ever been involved with. We did go for the four tries, but we allowed them to score some soft tries.”

Neither team would have been happy with their defence, which is usually so solid, but credit must go to the ambition and excellence of execution that both sides exhibited in breaking through the other’s lines.

“Our defence just let us down badly tonight,” Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said. “Our defence was a man-on-man thing, we did not make the tackles we should have.”

Advantage of youth

With two years to go to the next Rugby World Cup, there is plenty of optimism that South Africa will be able to challenge New Zealand for the title. And with almost half of the All Black starting line-up on Saturday set to be well into their thirties in Japan, the advantage of youth on the rise is with the Boks.

Sure, there are some South Africans getting on, but they will have less holes to fill than the New Zealanders in the not-too-distant future. And, with some extraordinary talent emerging from the youth ranks in recent years, there is cause for real optimism about the men in green and gold.

Holding on to number one

Two years after winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the Springboks were no doubt the best team in the world, defeating New Zealand three times in 2009 and winning a series against the British and Irish Lions. By 2011, a further two years on, they were no longer number one, with the All Blacks claiming the Webb Ellis Trophy on home soil.

Now, two years on from winning that Rugby World Cup, New Zealand is number one, having won the 2013 Rugby Championship without losing a match. Can they hold onto that run of success into 2015? It appears, if any team will have the ammunition to stop them, it will be the Springboks.