5 Awe­some mo­ments in the Test match this week­end

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

AF­TER win­ning just four Tests in 12 in 2016, the Spring­boks have kicked off the 2017 sea­son with a con­vinc­ing 3-0 se­ries win against France. Here rugby writer Jac­ques van der Westhuyzen high­lights the key rea­sons for the turn-around

Time

Al­lis­ter Coet­zee was ap­pointed in April last year, two months be­fore the June Tests, and wasn’t given a proper op­por­tu­nity to plan and pre­pare for the in­ter­na­tional sea­son. This time he’s had time to put things in place, hold three train­ing camps, and have a get-to­gether with the full squad in Plet­ten­berg Bay, where the goals and ideals of the team were laid out. A new cul­ture was de­vel­oped and it’s clear to see this Bok team is a happy one, who’ve grown, over time, to care for each other.

De­fence

Sure, the team’s at­tack­ing game has im­proved un­der the watch­ful eye of Franco Smith, but the most ob­vi­ous im­prove­ment is in de­fence. The Boks have tack­led and tack­led again in this se­ries, kept the French out com­pletely at El­lis Park, and for long pe­ri­ods of be­ing un­der pres­sure in Pre­to­ria and Dur­ban, too. Bren­dan Ven­ter’s con­tri­bu­tion has been im­mense in this depart­ment, but as Coet­zee pointed out on Satur­day night, every coach in the struc­ture has to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of de­fend­ing well in var­i­ous as­pects of the game.

Cap­taincy

War­ren White­ley may have missed his ‘home ‘Test, but his in­flu­ence and im­pact on the Bok team can­not be ig­nored. He is a man who re­spects and cares for his fel­low play­ers, and he puts his team and team-mates first. He is calm in ev­ery­thing he does, he doesn’t get flus­tered or an­gry, and he thinks about the game and what an im­pact it has on this coun­try. He cares deeply for the Spring­boks ... and that has rubbed off on those around him. How Coet­zee must wish he had taken the bold step last year and named him his leader then...

El­ton Jan­tjies

It’s not fair to sin­gle in­di­vid­u­als out af­ter so many play­ers con­trib­uted to the se­ries win – and there re­ally were so many qual­ity per­for­mances all-round. But Jan­tjies, af­ter a poor 2016 sea­son, was un­der pres­sure to show he can suc­ceed at Test level, and he did that. He took his Su­per Rugby form into the Test team and de­liv­ered. He showed a ma­tu­rity not seen last year, he be­came a leader of the backs, and he played with real au­thor­ity. His game man­age­ment was top notch and he kicked bril­liantly at goal. Ex­actly what the team needed ... a reli­able man at 10.

Bok badge

Whether real or not, it seemed that the Bok had lost its aura last sea­son. The fight was miss­ing, the pride seemed to be ab­sent. Not in 2017. Al­lis­ter Coet­zee ex­plains: “There was a lot of crit­i­cism last year and the goal go­ing into 2017 was to set the record straight. But it was not go­ing to come from the out­side ... the mo­ti­va­tion to turn things around could not come from an ex­ter­nal source. This was about self pride, hav­ing a shared value sys­tem that ev­ery­one bought into. Only the Bok in­ner cir­cle could fix what was wrong, no one else.”

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