Boks silence their detractors

2009-09-14 00:00

CAPTAIN John Smit, coach Peter de Villiers and the Springboks blew a deafening raspberry at their detractors as they made history and swept to Tri-Nations glory by beating the All Blacks 32-29 in Hamilton at the weekend.

Smit, bloodied but unbowed, said the victory was “my first in New Zealand and personally one of the most satisfying of my career.”

And who could deny him a rare moment of introspection after he led his team to fresh heights and answered his critics so eloquently?

The South African captain, still learning a new trade in one of the darkest, most confrontational positions in sport and against the world’s best, has been constantly told that he is the weak link in a strong team and that the All Blacks would expose him and the Boks on Saturday.

But the Bok scrum, and Smit, stood up superbly, their game plan fell into place and it was New Zealand who made all the wrong type of history. They not only suffered their first Test defeat at Hamilton, but it was the first time in 60 years that they lost three successive Tests to the Springboks. De Villiers and the Boks were savouring a winter of content as a series win over the British Lions and the Tri-Nations title were added to the world champions’ crown.

The Boksbelieve the turning point of the Test came after an hour when the New Zealanders trailed by 10 points. All Black captain Richie McCaw opted for an attacking scrum instead of taking the points and the Bok pack, led by Smit, shoved them back off the ball and won a penalty.

“You always get a massive boost when you blast over the ball after the opposition has opted for a scrum, and that was a turning point,” said Smit. “The scrums were a huge success. All the talk was a huge motivating factor, not just for me but all the guys around me too. They were up and angry and I got a helluva lot of backing from them. It’s always nice to be able to smile back after a week of criticism.”

Bok centre Jean de Villiers said of Smit: “He is so inspirational and a fantastic player. To see the comments about him week in and out and he just takes it, shrugs it off and keeps playing great rugby.”

There was also some poetic justice when Smit, perfectly legally, brought off a crunching tackle on Brad Thorn. It was the All Black lock who ended the Bok captain’s Tri-Nations tour in Wellington last year with an illegal spear tackle after the whistle and then escaped punishment.

The Boks won because they took just about every scoring chance that came their way, succeeding with all their kicks and applying pressure to force errors and score two tries. While it was very much a team effort, individuals like Smit, the sublime scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who fashioned and scored the first try, lineout boss Victor Matfield, assured flyhalf Morne Steyn and Frans Steyn, with penalties from 60 metres (for goodness sake!), 58 and 53 metres, played pivotal roles.

With Dan Carter landing all seven of his kicks, All Black coach Graham Henry said he had never seen better goal-kicking in a Test match and added that the Boks were unquestionably the better side.

The Boks, as De Villiers later pointed out, were not perfect. They again lost their intensity, focus and structure in the last quarter as the All Blacks came back at them hard.

Discipline was also a problem and the Boks were again hammered by the referee. Referees will tell you that there is hardly a scrum, lineout or breakdown which cannot be blown for some technical reason and Welshman Nigel Owens — from the kick-off and even when Smit slipped at a scrum — blew the Boks by the book.

But even an over-zealous referee could not spoil the day … for Smit, the Springboks and South Africa.

Scorers:

Springboks – tries by Fourie du Preez and Jean De Villiers. Penalties: Frans Steyn (3), Morne Steyn (2). Drop: Morne Steyn. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2).

All Blacks – tries by Sitiveni Sivivatu and Richie McCaw. Penalties: Dan Carter (5). Conversions: Carter (2).

 

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