5 Awesome moments in the Test match this weekend
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
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.”