We didn’t change, say Bok coach, captain as fans see new dawn

2012-10-01 00:00

THE coach and captain are adamant that tactically nothing has changed but many thousands of South Africans believe they saw the bright new dawn of Springbok rugby at Loftus on Saturday.

The Springboks were by no means perfect on the night, and the limited Wallabies were ripe for the plucking, but the positive approach of the South Africans in running in five tries for a 31-8 Rugby Championship win suggest a change in attitude.

Both coach Heyneke Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers later insisted it was the situation rather than the Springboks’ game plan which had changed.

“It’s not that we went out there with a more attacking mindset. It was more about playing the situation,” said De Villiers.

But it appeared right from the start that the Springboks were looking to run with the ball rather than kick it, with the blooding of young Johan Goosen at flyhalf introducing a more balanced approach and a genuine sense of urgency.

This was epitomised by the approach of wing Bryan Habana who buzzed busily around the field and was rewarded with a hat-trick of tries.

But, said De Villiers, this was always part of the plan if circumstances allowed. “We haven’t changed one thing, and I think that is what people don’t understand,”said De Villiers.

“When it comes off, it is great. When we can execute and finish those opportunities it is fantastic and we get the result.”

De Villiers said the kick-and-chase tactic had not been necessary because the Boks had the opportunities to attack with ball-in-hand.

“We always say there is space somewhere because you can’t cover everything. You have to play into that space.

“If the space is in the back, you then have to kick to get there, and kick well to be able to get the ball back.”

De Villiers paid tribute to the forwards and said that their efforts had made it possible for the backs to run with the ball. “We were really good at the breakdown, we put pressure on them and territorially I think we played fantastically.”

The forwards’ domination from the start, on the gainline, in the collisions, at the lineout and in closing down the Wallabies in defence, laid the platform and helped De Villiers nurse Goosen through his first Test.

The 20-year-old flyhalf, emotional at the anthems, missed his first two kicks at goal and De Villiers immediately lifted the pressure, opting to kick the next penalty to touch — and the Boks responded with a try — and then handing the goal-kicking duties to scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.

Pienaar, slicker and quicker, also played his part in taking more responsibilities at the base and running the game tactically.

Goosen settled quickly, providing the Boks with a variety of attacking options, playing his backs into space and within touching distance of scoring a try on debut.

Meyer said he was encouraged by Goosen’s showing, adding that the young flyhalf had played (and kicked) with a damaged ankle.

“He is an exciting prospect, I would have liked him to score that try there at the beginning and he showed a lot of pace,” he said.

“But it will take time, you can’t just pick guys and think they’re going to do brilliant things. But I thought he was superb. After 10 minutes, his ankle really hurt, but he said he wanted to see if he could play through and he showed a lot of character …”

Meyer said the real test of the Boks would come against the All Blacks in Soweto on Saturday when they would have to play a more tactical (kicking) game and finish more clinically.

There were a number of outstanding individual performances — from flank Francois Louw at the breakdown, a physically more involved Andries Bekker, and Pienaar, Goosen and Habana.

But it was the Boks’ willingness to blend brutal forward strength with attacking rugby that was most refreshing.

The Test all but fizzled out in a disappointingly ragged final quarter when the Springboks, well in charge, appeared as distracted as the Australians by the many injury changes to the Wallaby ranks.

Certainly the Springboks are by no means the finished article. They will have to be more ruthless in their finishing and accurate in their execution, if they are to beat the All Blacks on Saturday.

But there were encouraging signs at Loftus on Saturday that these young Springboks can play with power and some panache. And it has been a while since we could say that.

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