Bye-bye to mental blocks

2014-10-07 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The Springboks finished the 2014 Rugby Championship in second position with four wins from six games. They finished three points behind winners New Zealand, but will take heart from the fact that they beat their old rivals for the first time since 2011 with a 27-25 victory at Ellis Park last weekend.

It followed after a 28-10 win over the Australia the previous week when the Boks scored three tries in the last 10 minutes at Newlands.


The Springboks can no longer be accused of playing a one-dimensional kick-at-all-costs game. In the first half of last Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks, the Boks beat the All Blacks at their own game. Francois Hougaard’s try came after the Springbok backs showed enterprise by running it out from deep inside their own half.


The past Rugby Championship has proved that the Springboks have no shortage of depth in the crucial positions of scrumhalf and flyhalf.

With two solid performances against the All Blacks, Handre Pollard has proven himself as a player for the big occasions. Pollard scored two tries in the win over the All Blacks and his performance in the away clash against the Kiwis in Wellington was also impressive.

Pat Lambie also proved to be a more than adequate understudy these past two weeks.

He sparked a late comeback against Australia at Newlands and his 55 m penalty to win the game at Ellis Park proved his credentials under pressure. Morne Steyn’s failure to find touch with a penalty late in the game against Australia in Perth was perhaps a blessing in disguise for the Boks.

With first-choice scrumhalves Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar out injured, Francois Hougaard and the talented Cobus Reinach also showed their potential in the latter stages of the competition.

Hougaard was named man-of-the-match against Australia at Newlands and capped another impressive performance with a try against New Zealand. Coach Heyneke Meyer rightly expressed his satisfaction about the depth the team now possess in the No. 9 jersey.


Despite a satisfactory campaign, there are still some gaping holes out wide in the Springbok defence. The ease with which New Zealand scored tries at Ellis Park illustrated as much and here, skipper Jean de Villiers, was the main culprit. Both Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith’s tries were direct results of De Villiers rushing up too soon off his line, which created the space for the dangerous All Blacks to exploit. Right wing Cornal Hendricks has proven himself to be a great finisher, but defensively he’s still a work in progress.


Vermeulen’s superhuman effort against the All Blacks at Ellis Park proved just how vital he is to the Springbok cause. Vermeulen had not trained all week due to a cracked rib cartilage and there was still uncertainty regarding his participation mere minutes before kick-off. But what followed was simply sublime.

He made 66 m from nine carries, 10 tackles, three turnovers and claimed three of the Boks’ lineout throws. On the day, he also outshone counterpart Kieran Read, who many regard as the best No. 8 in world rugby. It’s important for the Springboks to carefully manage Vermeulen with the Rugby World Cup in England on the horizon next year.


Beating the All Blacks in 2014 was perhaps more important for the Springboks than winning the Rugby Championship. Their last win came way back in 2011 and under the coaching of Heyneke Meyer the Boks had lost five on the trot. in fact, overall the Boks lost nine out of their last 10 outings against the world’s No. 1-ranked team. Things had to change this year, especially given the fact that 2015 is a World Cup year. The Boks came oh-so-close in Wellington a few weeks ago (a 14-10 loss), before finally getting one over the All Blacks at Ellis Park. From a physical, skill and mental perspective, they now know they have what it takes to beat Steve Hansen’s charges.

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