ROAD IS LONG FOR BOKS

De­spite French se­ries win, Boks are far from per­fect, say coach and skip­per

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - DARRYN POL­LOCK

AYEAR in rugby is a long time, and there is no doubt that the tum­bling has stopped, in terms of the Spring­boks’ per­for­mances, as the first few signs of an up­ward curve ap­pear.

But af­ter only two games, both coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee and cap­tain War­ren White­ley main­tain that not much has been ac­com­plished – yet.

Two strong per­for­mances, with at­tack­ing in­tent, de­fen­sive dom­i­nance and a changed at­ti­tude have seen the Boks pick up a se­ries win against the trav­el­ling French, and made it two from two, with a fi­nal game to go at El­lis Park.

The coach, af­ter the Lof­tus Test – which in it­self was an im­prove­ment from any Test played last sea­son – asked for more of the same as the Boks im­prove steadily in all as­pects of their play.

That was in­deed ac­com­plished this past week­end as the Boks man­aged to score another 37 points over Les Bleus, which it­self was vastly im­proved. How­ever, two wins at home, against a tired French side, does not a year make.

The Boks have a long road ahead of them just in terms of this year’s fix­tures, as well as in their mis­sion to turn around the for­tunes of their bruised im­age.

Speak­ing af­ter the Test in Dur­ban, the hum­ble White­ley re­it­er­ated that noth­ing had been ac­com­plished yet, al­though he was happy to see the start that has been en­acted by the Boks.

“We have not ac­com­plished any­thing as a team,” the No 8 said bluntly.

“This is a good start, but there is another mas­sive Test match ahead of us.”

It was a state­ment that took many by sur­prise, es­pe­cially af­ter two dom­i­nant dis­plays, and when quizzed fur­ther, the Bok cap­tain clar­i­fied that the team were work­ing to­wards a big­ger goal than just a home-se­ries win against France.

“It is only the sec­ond Test match,” White­ley went on. “We have, I think, 12 or 11 Test matches to play this year.

“Look, I am not say­ing we have not done well, of course, we’re ex­tremely ex­cited for the start and the foun­da­tion that we have laid, but we still be­lieve there is a lot of rugby to be played and we be­lieve we can im­prove as a team.

“That is what is ex­cit­ing for us.”

It was not only the hum­ble cap­tain on the field who had such thoughts. Once be­lea­guered coach Coet­zee was happy to ac­knowl­edge a much more pos­i­tive start to his sec­ond year in charge, but clearly also had his sights set on the big­ger pic­ture – a pic­ture that prob­a­bly in­cludes him go­ing all the way to the 2019 World Cup in Ja­pan.

“Look, we have not achieved any­thing yet,” Coet­zee said in a sim­i­lar vein to his cap­tain. “It is a young team and if we con­tinue to build like we are build­ing, we will soon be a force to be reck­oned with.”

How­ever, there was no tak­ing away from the hap­pi­ness that Coet­zee felt at be­ing able to walk away with an easy se­ries victory against a French team that threw all they had at the Boks.

“Un­be­liev­able per­for­mance,” Coet­zee smiled.

“Very happy with the per­for­mance and the way this team has grown over nine months. Nine months ago, we were all sit­ting here (in Dur­ban af­ter a record loss against the All Blacks) with a lot of pain.

“But it is nice to wit­ness tonight an out­stand­ing per­for­mance, not per­fect yet, we still have a lot of work to do, and we are fol­low­ing a process. But I am pleased in the set piece, the way we at­tacked, and the big thing for me is the way we de­fended.”

The Boks have a dead rub­ber left, how­ever, and with all this talk of con­ti­nu­ity and grow­ing into a force to be reck­oned with, you can imag­ine that the man­age­ment and the play­ers will ap­proach the last game as if it was a fi­nal.

It is a team that is still grow­ing and find­ing each other, and one more game will do them a world of good as Coet­zee tries to re­store pride in the Spring­bok em­blem. TRY TIME: Siya Kolisi dives over the try­line in the Spring­boks’ 37-15 victory over France on Satur­day at Kings Park.

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