Epiphany dif­fi­cult to pin­point

The Boks have shed their ball-kick­ing skin and are in­tent on play­ing a new game of run­ning the ball. It’s proven to be a win­ning move

CityPress - - Sport - DAN RETIEF dan.retief@city­press.co.za he proof was in a col­lec­tion of great tries scored by Pa­trick Lam­bie, Fran­cois Hougaard and Han­dré Pol­lard, but the ex­act mo­ment of the Spring­boks’ epiphany this sea­son is dif­fi­cult to pin­point.

TThis sea­son’s in­ter­na­tional rugby cam­paign so far has been much like coach Heyneke Meyer’s first two years in charge – the Spring­boks were right up there at No 2 in the world, but were still given to play­ing a stodgy, risk-free game in which kick­ing the ball seemed to be their first op­tion. And then some­thing changed. The Spring­boks trans­formed, they started to run the ball, and the meta­mor­pho­sis was com­pleted at El­lis Park last week­end when they staved off a run of five suc­ces­sive de­feats to fi­nally give Meyer his first win over the All Blacks.

Up to the im­pres­sive surge against the Wal­la­bies and the All Blacks in the past two home tests, it had not been an im­pres­sive or con­fi­dence-boost­ing year for the Boks.

They were ex­tremely lucky to beat Wales by a point in Mbombela when a late penalty try went their way, they strug­gled against Ar­gentina in a down­pour at Lof­tus in Au­gust, and in the re­turn game they seemed to be headed for de­feat against the Pu­mas when the mo­ment be­came too big for the Ar­gen­tini­ans.

Their first match on tour down un­der turned sour when a dread­ful mis­take by Morné Steyn cost them a win over Aus­tralia and, in Wellington, the All Blacks were stronger at the end to win a game the Boks could have won. But the mo­ment cri­tique oc­curred in the 35th minute of this match. Scrum half Ruan Pien­aar was se­ri­ously in­jured when team-mate Duane Ver­meulen’s foot, as he was swung in a tackle, struck his knee.

Pien­aar was re­placed by Fran­cois Hougaard, but there was no im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion of any change of ap­proach as the new scrum half per­sisted in putting boot to ball. But, like a Highveld storm, there was some­thing build­ing on the hori­zon. Against Aus­tralia at New­lands, the Boks sud­denly be­gan mov­ing the ball and the light­ning hit in the last 10 min­utes as they scored three tries to lash the Wal­la­bies.

Hougaard was again a busy, bustling ball of en­ergy as he sent the Wal­la­bies plenty of posers; Pol­lard had clearly been in­structed to have a go, Lam­bie did the same and the rest of the backs rev­elled in the new tac­tics. And, fi­nally, El­lis Park pro­vided proof that the Boks were shed­ding their con­stric­tive skin and strik­ing out on a new, bold ap­proach.

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