Why the Springboks can dare to dream again
'It wasn't an easy seven months. It was tough. But everyone chipped in so that we get the belief back in the Bok jersey again'
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee beamed with pride following his team's 3-0 series whitewash against France‚ but was careful not to be consumed by triumphalism.
“We haven't achieved anything yet‚ but it is a good start to the year‚” he noted sagely after his team beat France 35-12 at Ellis Park.
His team was barely recognisable from the one that staggered from one failure to the next last year.
Changes in playing personnel‚ most notably the selection of Warren Whiteley as captain; as well as amendments to the coach staff‚ especially the addition of Brendan Venter as a coaching consultant‚ helped steer the Boks to calmer waters.
The restoration of the Springbok brand has been front of mind for Coetzee and the gradual increase in crowd figures in this series created the impression that faith in the team is on the up.
“A lot of small things contribute to success. Sometimes you can't measure it. Sometimes a sponsor comes on board and it injects positivity into the psyche‚” said Coetzee.
The coach must have been mightily relieved his team could banish thoughts of last year's underachievement.
“I'm very pleased that we could turn things around. It wasn't an easy seven months. It was tough. But everyone chipped in so that we get the belief back in the Bok jersey again.”
What was most pleasing was the 'all-for-one' ethos with which the team has been imbued. A higher work rate and increased levels of intensity helped set them apart in this series.
It was exemplified by what Coetzee witnessed late
in the third Test.
“When you see in the 76th minutes three locks leading a chase you know you've done something right‚” said Coetzee.
He was equally impressed with the way his team coped with the disruption of losing captain Whiteley on the eve of the final Test.
“Winning by a good victory margin and keeping France try-less was a massive step in the right direction.”
“Our preparation time has really helped in that regard. We could put those things in place.
It also has to do with self pride and buying into a shared value system‚” he said about the team's improved defence.
France‚ it has to be said‚ were way off their best in a series contested at the end of their long season. By enervating France in the tight exchanges‚ the Springboks' set a platform from which to dominate the tourists.
Apart from securing a series win‚ Coetzee also had key questions answered around personnel.
Whiteley's stature as captain has quickly taken on impressive dimensions.
Although the Bok backrow mix may yet require some tinkering‚ Whiteley and Siya Kolisi's contributions proved immense.
Indeed there had been lingering questions around the ability of flyhalf Elton Jantjies to forge an enduring Test career.
He however very much ran the show in the back division and by converting 16 from his 19 attempts at goal during the series‚ he served notice of an ability to hold his nerve at the highest level.
Unlike last year‚ an empowered Jantjies felt was emboldened to play a game with which he is more familiar.
Franco Mostert proved another star performer‚ starting all three Tests ahead of the more celebrated locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager.
Players like loosehead Tendai Mtawarira‚ Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel drew from the adage that class is permanent.
The Springboks can dare to dream again. Going into the Rugby Championship with hope is a lot better than doing so with dread. - TimesLIVE