Youth leads Bokke on road to renaissance

DSTV NOW is on the verge of getting me fired as my friends and I risked streaming the All Blacks square off against the Springboks during working hours. I mean, who would miss such a clash? The Boks are definitely not as good as they used to be but, on paper, it was a clash worth risking getting the sack for. The battle between the two Giants in world rugby was a rumble in the jungle. It wasn’t tidy or pretty; there was a lot of grappling and no excitement.  When all is said and done, it really failed to live up to the expectation and the hype.

When it was all said and done and the final whistle blew it was Pollard’s convention that salvaged a draw for the springboks. The draw felt more like a victory for the Boks and defeat for the All blacks, and it was clear. The players and fans alike clad in green and gold celebrated the end of the game, perhaps due to how it ended, but most likely due to the fact that they avoided defeat in New Zealand against the pace-setters of world rugby. The All Blacks looked dejected and if one had not checked the scoreline the assumption would have been that the Boks won.

So what is the take away from this game? Who has more to gain and to learn as the world cup draws close? It is said that one is bound to learn more from a defeat than they would from a victory. Given this assertion what does a stalemate entail for the two teams? There is no obvious pick due to the circumstances. However, the Springboks has plenty of reason to be happy. Here’s why…

In their last test match against Wallabies, the Boks front row historically featured Beast, Mbonabi and Nyakane, and they fared pretty well.  In this particular fixture, the whole front row was changed and again they fared well. It certainly wasn’t a top drawer performance but, they really gave a good show. Kitshoff is a player I rate very highly and every time he walks out he proves that it’s time he is regarded as one of the best loosehead props in the world.

Popular opinion is that the Boks must use Nyakane and Beast as their props and Kitshoff as their hooker. My sentiments are this, Nyakane is good during play; he makes those tackles and gets in hard but, at the breakdown that is where he is found wanting. On the other hand, Erasmus needs to find a way of making Beast and Kitshoff work as his props and Marx the hooker. I like Mbonabi as he has quite a decent play but, I think Marx edges him in overall gameplay and his work ethic on the breakdown. One major area that Marx needs to work on though is the lineout, Mbonabi is excellent on those while I find Marx as too erratic.

What impressed me the most about the Boks is the new blood, especially Herschel Jantjies. I take a bow. The young man has just cemented his place in the squad that is to go to Japan and fight for the world cup. He came on for De Klerk, who suffered a suspected concussion and boy did he impress! This was his second test appearance for the Boks, both games have been against very formidable opponents. In both games, he has scored tries, 2 against Australia and 1 against New Zealand. There couldn’t be a better way to introduce yourself to the world stage. The young man has to work on his game management skills though. I feel as though he has to do more to assert himself in the game as he seems like he always has that aura of a timid lad.

Apart from Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe demonstrated a great game. The way he played Ioane out of the game was tremendous. He played to the cliche, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog,’ by roughing up the All Blacks in more ways than one. He was always in their faces, got in squabbles and was always up to receive balls. He even tried a few runs, although he didn’t get much from them. At the end of the day, he had the heart to go at the All Blacks and had the awareness for that chip near the end that resulted in the memorable try for Jantjies.

Boks

On the other hand, the inexperienced All Blacks were a bunch of nerves. They didn’t really assert themselves on the game. The one person I didn’t expect to struggle was Richie Mo’unga. I have been one of the leading voices calling for his inclusion in the run-on 15 for the All Blacks, he has outperformed his competition in the Super Rugby for quite some time. Mo’unga has been playing on the highest level of club rugby for a while and he has been having top drawer performances week in week out. Furthermore, he has won the Super Rugby title with his club, all of this sums to him being able to handle high-pressure games and situations.

For some reason, he could not reproduce that for the All Blacks, the coaches preferred Beauden Barrett regardless of the numbers and performances he produced in Super Rugby. Not to read too much into the game, but it did show that they are justified. The move to play them both worked wonders for Barrett who was deployed as a fullback, he had plenty of space to work with and made breaks that were threatening. He turned on the burners to provide the assist for Goodhue’s try. Maybe Mo’unga was affected by Barrett’s shadow hovering around him. Barrett was always there to collect the loose ball and was the first receiver in some cases although he needs to work on his positional awareness.

Ioane certainly gave a surprising performance. It was in the way he was silenced by Kolbe. Honestly, I expected him to be too hot to handle for Kolbe. His greatest undoing was handling errors at the inopportune time. It seems he needs some more games before the world cup to get back to his usual best but, with time running out, it’s hard to see where those minutes will come from. Goodhue though was such a breath of fresh air for the All Blacks faithful. He had a good and composed display all-round, combining well with Barrett for the try. Performances like this will surely work in his favour in cementing a place in the team.

The experienced heads in the New Zealand team provided the required leadership and guidance for the younger upcoming players. Sonny Bill Williams, Dan Coles, Kieran Read, Aaron and Ben Smith are important for this group of players and it showed today. The All Blacks loose trio is not as effective on the breakdown as the All Blacks of old, with McCaw coming to mind easily. However, all is not lost for the All Blacks they still have a bit of time to work on their shortcomings. The biggest prayer point among the All Blacks fans and players is that Retallick’s injury isn’t as bad as feared, the replacement wasn’t good enough.

The take-home message from this game is that the Springboks have some hope of stopping the rot and their young players won’t crack under pressure. For the All Blacks there is work to be done, their group of young players is good for their franchises meaning the talent is there but, they also need to learn to deal with pressure management.

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