South Africa’s revival in 2017 has been built on their intensity in defence and vigour at the breakdown, which was on display again in the dominant 35-12 victory over France at Ellis Park on Saturday that saw them sweep the home series 3-0.
The Springboks scored four tries to none and overcame the late withdrawal of captain Warren Whiteley to overpower their opponents and take the series with an aggregate of 109 points over the three tests.
The past three weeks have been chalk and cheese with last year, when the Boks lost eight of their 12 tests, including historic defeats to Ireland, Italy and Argentina, for the worst rugby season in the country’s history.
The calls from the public for coach Allister Coetzee’s sacking were at times deafening, but the improvement in the side, specifically at the breakdown and on defence in particular, has been striking.
"It was great to see how we have turned things around. We’ve learned a lot since last year. There’s a lot of belief in the side now," Coetzee told reporters.
"We needed to turn this around, we still have a lot to do, but the belief is back in the jersey again. That is a great feeling. A lot of small things combine to make the product better."
The addition of World Cup winner Brendon Venter to the technical team as defence coach has paid dividends, with the side conceding just four tries in three tests, a huge improvement on their porous form of 2016.
"He will stay on as a consultant," Coetzee confirmed. "The defense is not perfect yet. There were a few missed tackles. That said, you can’t coach players to get back on their feet and chase with intensity." Heading into the Rugby Championship, where they face world champions New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, starting with a home match against the Pumas on August 19, Coetzee knows that tougher challenges lie ahead.
"We have great rugby players and now that we have a shared value system, we are showing that. The motivation comes from within. We cannot stay undefeated forever, but one thing we can promise is an all-out effort," he said.