Five key points to draw from Springboks’ victory over France
Boks’ storm set piece and Frans Steyn’s experience are among Test positives
After a much-needed and relieving win for coach Allister Coetzee and the Springboks‚ it is easy to become carried away.
Wins were a precious commodity in 2016‚ so starting this international season on a positive note was vital.
In that sense the 37-14 victory over France at Loftus was a case of "mission accomplished". But it is still early in the season.
Here are five things we learnt on Saturday.
1. Bok set piece is strong: The set piece was the only positive aspect of the Boks’ overall 2016 season and on the evidence against France‚ the scrums and lineouts will be strengths again in 2017.
The lineouts were not perfect but one adept move led to a great try for scrumhalf Ross Cronjé while the Boks poached three of the opposition’s balls.
Scrums were solid‚ if not totally dominant‚ but with an entirely new pack it will take some time to bed down. Hooker Malcolm Marx made Test rugby look easy in his first start.
2. France cannot play much worse: It is easy to be carried away by this win‚ but France were poor in many areas. They made 37 handling errors — a number that surely will not be repeated. Some of their mistakes were down to Bok pressure‚ but the French did not respect possession enough and tried to play too much rugby with a makeshift team.
They will be an improved unit for the second Test and have seven returning Clermont and Toulon players to come into selection reckoning. Remember Ireland won the first June Test against the Boks in 2016 and lost the series.
Despite the emphatic score‚ the Boks are not over the line yet and can expect a backlash from a stronger Les Bleus at sea level in Durban.
3. SA’s defence had more urgency: After some dismal defensive performances in 2016‚ this was a much better collective effort by the Boks.
They were more urgent on the gain line and their line speed was good.
France did manage to manoeuvre the ball to the tips and pressure Raymond Rhule in particular.
The Boks scrambled and covered well but if France had been more clinical in possession they might have created more problems.
The Boks made 178 tackles to France’s 100 but missed 36‚ which is too many. Despite the below-par 85% tackle completion‚ there was more aggression about their defensive work. A good platform to build on in the coming weeks.
4. Frans Steyn’s experience was essential: The Springboks were comfortably in control until French scrumhalf Baptiste Serin scored to narrow the gap to 16-14 after 56 minutes.
Suddenly the callow Bok playmakers looked ragged and were playing too much rugby in their own territory — and being turned over.
Enter the experienced Steyn. In one move on his 22‚ he looked up‚ kicked deep and turned the French. Several phases later‚ the Boks were awarded a penalty try and Brice Dulin was shown a yellow card. Game over‚ thanks to cool-headed game management from Steyn.
5. Cronjé could be the answer: Debutant scrumhalf Ross Cronjé might solve the vexing scrumhalf problem for the Boks. He is the epitome of the team man‚ doing nothing flashy but everything with calm assuredness. He cleared the base of rucks quickly‚ without fuss‚ kicked when appropriate and sniped occasionally‚ which had the French defence on edge.
It was a composed performance that helped settle the skittish Elton Jantjies at flyhalf‚ who delivered his best Bok performance.