Rugby’s most enduring rivalry is once again in rude health.
Former New Zealand scrumhalf Justin Marshall believes the Springboks’ recent performances against their old foe‚ the All Blacks‚ have given every indication the rivalry has been restored.
“It is incredible what SA rugby has been able to achieve in the last three years‚” said Marshall‚ who was a guest of Land Rover at the Kwandwe Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape this week.
A points difference of just one separates the teams over their last four matches‚ which has seen a two-point win for either side‚ a one-point win for the All Blacks in 2017 and a draw in their most recent clash in Wellington.
Marshall agrees‚ beating a good Springbok team brings a measure of validation to the All Blacks.
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“After what happened the year before in that outstanding Test match‚ SA came back. You know what really thrilled me about that Test match was the team Rassie [Erasmus] picked for it.
“I didn’t expect him to pick a team like that. I expected him to back off and keep his powder dry a bit and then hit us with all he’s got in their World Cup opening match. He named a full-strength team‚ bar a few injuries. That gave me goose bumps. It was clear SA were there for no other reason but to beat us.
“Steve Hansen responded and he named a strong squad. For a week everybody in that city was pumped for that contest. I was in Wellington [for the Test] and everybody was saying: ‘How good is this? SA are back‚ our old rivals are here to play’.”
What impressed Marshall — in his pomp a highly combative‚ chest-out scrumhalf — was the manner in which the Boks secured a draw in Wellington when Herschel Jantjies touched down deep in the game.
“You managed to do what the All Blacks do to other teams‚” noted Marshall. “That is to steal a game at the end. Nobody usually does that to the All Blacks because they are not good enough to do it.
“Also look at the way they created that try. They didn’t go retain‚ retain for 25 phases. They had ambition‚ made a break‚ made a switch and an injection of something special with a chip. And‚ yes‚ the bounce of the ball was great but you create that little bit of luck. That to me is a sign that there is a good attitude within the Springbok team.”
He said he was not worried about the All Blacks‚ who have been off the pace by their own lofty standards by winning just three of their last six matches.
“I am not concerned about the All Blacks, but I am thinking that in terms of preparation I would prefer if they were feeling a little less confident and slightly more on edge if they were still getting the results.
“What the All Blacks were good at over the years under Steve Hansen was winning the sh**ty games. When they had a bad day they still found a way to win. Now when they are having a bad day they are either drawing or losing or copping 47 points‚ which is unheard of.
“Now they’re wondering what has gone wrong. This is a slight problem for them. They can’t be having an off day in big games in the World Cup.”