THE RESURGENCE OF THE SPRINGBOKS

The gong sounded and Herchel Jantjies placed his hands on the ball, gave a quick glance and pinged it to Handre Pollard to boot out. A moment South Africans will never forget, we were going to lift the Webb Ellis trophy once more, a record-equaling third time tied with our fiercest rivals New Zealand.

So how exactly did we climb a mountain that 18 months ago seemed beyond our capabilities? It started when Rassie Erasmus took over Allister Coetzee in March 2018. His first match in charge was against Wales in Washington DC, in which he gave thirteen players their first test cap. It was a narrow 22-20 defeat but from there it was a journey heading straight to the top.

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South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus at a press conference. Image from @SuperSportTV

Erasmus was prepared to scuffle the old structures set in place by his predecessors – outdated and fragile blueprints that crippled a team that had the potential to go toe-to-toe with anyone in World Rugby but just couldn’t. Erasmus manifested a whole new philosophy that would ultimately take us back to the summit of World Rugby. His new style of play, fusing power with speed was an indication of what was to come. England was the experiment job that proved successful and would lay the foundation for something special, the appointment of our first-ever black captain part of the masonry. A comprehensive victory over the Red Roses was the shift in the paradigm, and a spark to a fire that would burn on the biggest stage of them all.

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Say gold! Captain Siya Kolisi holding the Webb Ellis trophy at the World Rugby Awards. Image from @WorldRugby

Que the 2019 Rugby Championship, the Springboks were totally a different team. The team was playing with a certain swagger that was missing since the days of Kitch Christie and Jake White. Suddenly a team that looked like it was on the brink of vaporizing into thin air, was rejuvenated and signalling ominous signs. Maybe it was a case of be careful what you wish for to then New Zealand coach Steve Hansen who before the Championship started said: “rugby needs a strong Springbok team.”

Spearheaded by the likes of Kolisi, Marx, and Etzebeth the Springboks proved to be a force to be reckoned with, playing a brand of rugby that only Erasmus can pioneer. Springbok teams are renowned for their gutsiness and ruthlessness but this time it was different, they had taken it to another level. Erasmus created the perfect team, investing time in the likes of Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am who at the time were maybe good enough to play against an Italy or Georgia side. The shenanigans of Aphiwe Dyantyi proved to be a blessing in disguise as Mapimpi would go on to become one of the best finishers in modern rugby together with mercurial winger Cheslin Kolbe.

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Magical feet! Cheslin Kolbe dotting the ball down in a 49-3 victory over Italy. Image from @SuperSportTV

I can’t imagine the Boks playing a test match without Lukhanyo Am who in many respects has become an integral part of the defence structure that we so heavily rely on. Erasmus’ right arm man Jacques Nienaber who is responsible for the defence operation turned Am into a defence general alongside marauder and 2019 Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit. (Donald Trump maybe needs to consult with Nienaber on that wall situation)

Essentially what it boils down to is that Erasmus knew what he wanted and crafted the players he knew could do the job. A lot of players copped a lot of flack, the likes of Willie le Roux, Damian de Allende, Mapimpi, etc but he saw the bigger picture and finally after a gold medal and a Webb Ellis trophy we see it too. Have a clear vision and stick to your guns is the key lesson, his predecessors were quick to drop players upon public outcry but he did what he believed would work.

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Pieter-Steph du Toit scores the Springboks’ only try against rivals New Zealand in their opening match. Image from @SuperSportTV

South Africa is in desperate need of minds like Erasmus to sustain what we have accomplished this year, and maybe him stepping into the directors’ role is another step towards greatness and taking our rugby to unprecedented heights.

Only time will tell, but there’s a lot to be excited about.

SPRINGBOKS: A CREAKING MACHINE RARING TO GO

For the first time in a long time, we have South Africans singing to the same tune. Rassie Erasmus and Mzwandile Stick have done an incredible turnaround job in the aftermath of Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee’s humdrum tenures.

The Springboks are well known for their brute style of play and uncompromising defence structure, we saw glimpses of that during Meyer’s term as a coach and it was almost non-existent with Coetzee at the helm. The All Blacks laid the gauntlet for the rest of the world with exquisite, easy-on-the-eye gameplay which most teams tried to emulate and inevitably failed to master.

South Africa v New Zealand - The Rugby Championship

There were unsurprising calls from the South African public to also try and play this expansive trade and one would argue and say this led to Coetzee’s lacklustre tenure, trying hard to play a style very much foreign to the South African blueprint.

What is the South African blueprint? Well, the blueprint is what we have witnessed in the Springboks successful Rugby Championship campaign this year. Direct, incisive play and an unforgiving work rate, a trade which has been established in the Kobus Wiese era, followed up by the Os du Randt and Bakkies Botha of this world and is now being manifested by Kolisi & co.

Bakkies Botha

Erasmus reverted back to this blueprint which set the Boks up for a merry-way starting with the demolition of the England team during the June Test Internationals in 2018. Eddie Jones’ team were the hot favourites having dominated Europe in the Six Nations tournament and boasted a talented squad featuring the likes of Saracens duo Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje.

England went on to claim one over the Boks at the end of year tour which ultimately served as a fine-tuning platform against Europe’s elite and now the Springbok machine has been oiled up and is ready to go on a collision course.

Springboks 1

The Boks are not a polished product yet, the team is idling at 80% and is already bruising the opposition, a very good sign if you’re a South African if not the signs are very ominous. The Springboks pack is dominating teams which allow the backline to flourish under the stewardship of Blue Bulls maverick Handre Pollard. Some might say we don’t have the strongest backline but playing with a forward pack that gives you go-forward momentum and defends like Trojans dilute the existing frailties.

The Springboks in their nature were never built to play expansive rugby like their Southern Hemisphere counterparts New Zealand. It has always been about outmuscling and wearing down the opposition physically. This is evident with the Bok scrum dominating the All Blacks and Wallabies Wellington and Johannesburg respectively, in the match against Argentina, there were 10 scrums of which 6 resulted in penalties for the Springboks.

The Springboks are once again major World Cup contenders and a threat for any opposition and maybe, just maybe South Africans can get their hopes up of lifting another Webb Ellis trophy at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.

Rassie

Photo Credits:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rassie-erasmus-determined-to-keep-tourists-on-track-to-show-true-colours-85vwqb7nc

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Springboks seal series over England with one game left to play

Springboks seal series over England with one game left to play