Bigger tests await Boks
Springboks notch up five wins in a row, but ...
Allister Coetzee should be a happy man. The Springboks have come through the first two tests of their Rugby Championship campaign with nine out of a possible 10 log points. Thanks to their superior points difference, the Boks currently enjoy a slender lead over the All Blacks at the top of the tournament standings.
The Boks scored five tries in their 41-23 win against Argentina in Salta on Saturday. The result marked SA’s first win overseas since October 2015, as well as their first away win under Coetzee. After winning four of their 12 tests in 2016, the Boks have won five out of five in 2017. Not since 2014 have they banked five consecutive wins.
The turnaround has been remarkable. The Boks are reaping the rewards of a national conditioning programme that was implemented in the build-up to the 2017 season. The introduction of defence guru Brendan Venter has had a positive influence on their approach. The set pieces are firing.
An improvement at the gainline has allowed the Boks to win turnovers and score more tries. Ultimately, they have developed a winning brand of rugby.
Indeed, Coetzee has every reason to smile.
The Boks played in a red jersey in Salta to commemorate 25 years of unity in SA rugby. A lot was said in the build-up about the controversial move to swap the traditional green and gold for an unfamiliar strip of red, albeit for a single test. In the end, it made little difference to the performance. The Boks put 41 points past the Pumas. In doing so, they equalled the SA record for scoring 35 points or more in consecutive tests (five).
Coetzee will know that greater challenges await. They will depart for Australasia in the coming days. They will be aware of their record in this part of the world. Since the start of the Rugby Championship in 2012, the Boks have won one test in Australasia (against the Wallabies in 2013) and lost eight.
The All Blacks beat the Wallabies 35-29 in Dunedin on Saturday. The clash highlighted the threat of both teams. Australia’s Super Rugby sides failed to win a single match against New Zealand opposition in the recent tournament. On Saturday, however, the Wallabies raced to a 17-0 lead inside 15 minutes. They may have won if they had kicked all their goals and maintained their defensive shape in the final minutes.
The Boks have impressed with their recent results. Their balanced approach has proved entertaining and effective. The team has flourished under the leadership of Warren Whiteley (prior to injury), Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and others this season.
All that said, there is still work to do. The Wallabies put five tries past a typically frugal All Blacks defence last Saturday. The All Blacks maintained their composure throughout the game and then landed the knockout blow at the death. The Boks would do well to keep this in mind as they prepare for a challenging, and ultimately campaign defining, tour Down Under.