Virtually to a man, the Springboks thoroughly justified their salaries in bashing (overwhelmingly by legal means, of course) the All Blacks into submission in Bloemfontein.
Sport24.co.za’s Chief writer and Editor Rob Houwing reports:
From Nos 1-15, and throwing the odd substitute into the equation as well, the Boks produced one of those extraordinarily “amped” performances, basically knocking back anything that moved in a black jersey with zeal.
Sometimes the high degree of body-on-the-line commitment even came from mildly unexpectedly sources.
Did you notice, for instance, reserve flyhalf Morne Steyn’s rare dumping of Rodney So’oialo? I swear I heard the “ooof” as the visiting No 8 crashed unceremoniously to the hard deck on his back, looking as surprised as the angelic-faced Steyn did.
Then there was Heinrich Brussow delighting in the opportunity to comprehensively bowl over his illustrious opposite number in the scavenging department, Richie McCaw.
The diminutive Free Stater is already earning a reverent press in New Zealand. Daniel Gilhooly of the New Zealand Herald wrote this week: “No longer do the (All Black forwards) plan for eight behemoths. Now it’s seven behemoths and one very annoying open-side.”
There was beyond-the-norm physicality, too, from Jean de Villiers, who combined customary skill and awareness – his pass off the ground to try-scorer Ruan Pienaar was a classy moment – with hungry “directness” in attacking the channels of Stephen Donald and even his chunky No 12 rival Ma’a Nonu.
And if some critics reckon JP Pietersen had a pretty quiet outing, maybe they overlook the importance of his potentially try-saving, decisively smothering tackle on Sitiveni Sivivatu on the stroke of half-time.
The collective mongrel of the Bok forwards, of course, was a joy to behold for at least three-quarters of the encounter.
In contemplating the game afterwards, I imagined a lot of bruised All Black limbs, but certainly also some knackered South African ones, considering the admirable, lung-busting effort that had gone into securing the win.
So McCaw’s troops will be aching … but primarily, I suspect, on the grounds of pride. And a psychologically “hurting” All Blacks team almost certainly translates into one fearsome kettle of fish a week on.
Bok coach Peter de Villiers has correctly conceded that New Zealand will “target” the Durban match, considering that they had had insufficient time to properly acclimatise to the Free State conditions last Saturday.
It is a sobering thought, too, that the All Blacks, admittedly helped by Ruan Pienaar’s early wonkiness in the place-kicking department, threatened at times to steal that game, despite their back-foot status for so long.
They are a smart outfit, as much as anything, and will be working extremely hard this week to iron out their most obvious areas of discomfort – notably the line-outs.
There are, of course, “ways and means” to ease your predicament in this department, and I would not be surprised if Victor Matfield and company find the going a tad less rosy at Absa Stadium.
Of some satisfaction to the visitors, too, is their modern record in Durban’s agreeably seaside clime: the All Blacks are in line for a rare hat-trick of wins there after successive Tri-Nations triumphs in 2002 (30-23) and 2007 (26-21).
Indeed, they boast a further victory there in the post-isolation era, 23-19 in 1996, and just one reverse – South Africa’s spectacular, come-from-behind yet also fortuitous 24-23 win in 1998, when they went on to claim the Tri-Nations for the first time under Nick Mallett’s coaching stewardship.
At least the Boks will field relatively few players on Saturday scarred by the defeat two years ago.
This, for the record, was the Bok starting XV then: Percy Montgomery, Ashwin Willemse, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, JP Pietersen, Butch James, Ruan Pienaar, Bob Skinstad, Danie Rossouw, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, BJ Botha, Gary Botha, Os du Randt.
None of the thoughts above ought to be instantly interpreted as my signal that New Zealand will necessarily roar back with a victory this week.
There is still the not insignificant matter of Smit’s mostly very seasoned combatants “knowing how to win” tight Test matches. Perhaps New Zealand’s anticipated counter-fury will still not be enough against so accomplished and unflustered a Bok outfit?
Maybe South Africa have, indeed, got their number for the time being, and will place beyond all dispute their return to the No 1 ranking in the world?
But let’s just say this Saturday is one tough, tough call …Tweet