The Boks put together a scrappy performance this past weekend against an enthusiastic Welsh side and still walked away with the victory. One might argue that despite their poor effort, the Springboks still managed to squeak the victory and in so doing, showed their character. I’m certainly not going to sugar coat it, we were lucky, but a win is a win and I’ll take it any way I can, at the end of the day. It seems clichéd because it is and my lack of literary imagination is perhaps indicative of the weekends performance. In all honesty, it was something of a meh game to watch after the previous weeks excitement and raised a few pointers worth discussing.
1. JANNIE LOOKS TIRED
“Beggars can’t be choosers.” I’m not exactly Jannie du Plessis’ greatest fan as I find him to have an attitude which stinks to high hell but in the same breath, I am also fully aware that our depth at tighthead is severely thin in South Africa and that the big guy is the best we have. With that in mind, do we really want to keep playing an assets such as Jannie, to the point of exhaustion? He is clearly looking fatigued and his performance this past weekend affirms this. He looked lethargic in open play and whilst he scrummed well, he gave away two penalties. Let’s not forget that he has played rugby – week in and week out – for both the Springboks and Sharks for nigh on the past three seasons and a complete blowout is potentially around the corner if he is not managed. What happens if this happens – touch wood – ? The bigger picture needs to be kept in mind here.
2. FLIP VAN DER MERWE SHOULD NOT BE IN THE GREEN AND GOLD
Despite being pedigree, Flip’s general lack of self-control has seen him cop his fair share of yellow cards in the past. His actions this weekend – which saw him pick up another yellow – was disgusting at best and stank of the thugish attitude held by the Springbok class of 2002/2003 under Rudolf Straueli. There is no place in the game for any sort of malicious intent to do grievous bodily harm to an opposition and if I were Heyneke Meyer, I would be questioning whether Flip has the potential to be a liability for the Springboks in the future? Can we afford 10 minutes without a player in a World Cup semi or final? No. Is Flip likely to brain-fart and do something stupid? Yes. Cut him. Simple.
3. SCHALK STILL HAS WHAT IT TAKES
Wasn’t it great to see that blonde mop of hair running around your screen again throwing itself into anything that moved? He replaced Willem Alberts after 20 minutes and played out the remaining 60 with aplomb. The physical presence and energy which he brought made a huge difference to the game and seemed to lift those around him. A certain inclusion in every Bok squad leading up to and including the World Cup. I wouldn’t start him per say but his experienced head would bring calm to any situation if he were sent on as a 60th minute sub. ALL HAIL SCHALK.
4. VETKOP STEYN IS NOT GOING TO STEP HIS WAY THROUGH THE DEFENCE
Yes, Vetkop is a dead-eye-dick when it comes to having a shot at goal and yes he has a massive boot on him with regards to positional kicking, but can he break the line? Probably not. His one footed hip-jinking-dumby-throwing swerve cannot be considered anything close to a sidestep and does very little in the ways of catching the defence flat-footed. I understand that he had to have a go at the line to keep the defence honest but the likelihood of him ever breaking the line was slim. Questions can also be raised about his ability to get the players outside him through a gap. His game was littered with errors yet strangely enough it was in defence – his perceived weakness – where he stood up and was counted. Is Vetkop really the best we have?
5. JP HAS A WAY TO GO AT 13
Outside centre is one of the toughest positions to play on a rugby field. Your understanding of the space around you on both attack and defence needs to be up to scratch otherwise you will get exposed. It’s not something that can be coached and game time is what’s needed to develop this understanding. I’m not suggesting that JP doesn’t possess the awareness needed to play 13 or that he should stick to wing. He certainly has shown potential and I am simply noting that he is not the final product as yet and needs time to fine-tune his gameplay.
6. CORNAL SHOWS FANTASTIC PROMISE
Big, fast, threatening with ball in hand and able to beat a defender, Cornal Hendricks is a player for the future and gets me excited whenever he get’s his hands on the ball. Yet to be truly tested on defence or under the highball but has ticked all the other boxes so far.
7. WILLIE LE ROUX IS HUMAN
After one of the performances of the season in the first Test, Willie had something of an iffy showing this week, proving that he is from Planet Earth and not Krypton. For once he seemed shaky under the highball and was unable to unlock the stingy Welsh defence, however, it was heartening to see him settle and come into his own towards the end of the match, which is indicative of the class he possesses.
8. SHOULD THE BOKS EVER RELY ON A PENALTY TRY TO BEAT THE WELSH
This is one of the biggest questions to come out of the match for me. My pride tells me no, and rightfully so. Never – ever – should the Welsh be allowed to find themselves in a position to beat the Springboks. Period. Surely our heritage and culture dictates that this should never be an option? Comments made by Heyneke in the post match interviews where he alluded to the victory as being one of his “best wins yet” is worrying as it gives the impression that we as a Springbok supporters – and perhaps Heyneke as a coach – will take what we can get, rather than what we deserve, when it comes to rugby. We should demand more respect than that.
I wouldn’t suggest that there is any need for panic. It was good to be tested by the Welsh and this past weekend’s match will certainly stand us in greater stead and possibly serve a greater purpose than another one-sided match ever would. The Boks need to move from strength to strength and if they believe that their character needs to be tested as much as their defensive or attacking skills, then so be it. Just make sure you bring the RWC trophy home. Simple. No pressure.