Loftus ideals: Boks have more than blind hope against All Blacks
After downing the Wallabies, the All Blacks clash looms as a hugely significant contest for Rassie's men
In terms of results, performance and promise, Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks have taken a big step forward in 2018 after two years that had the potential to ruin the national team irreparably.
The Boks have just secured second in the Rugby Championship, the first time since 2014, after three years of finishing third twice and last once.
The Boks beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 2009, inflicting the world champions’ first championship home defeat since Argentina joined the competition in 2012.
Saturday’s 23-12 win over the Wallabies backed up the 36-34 victory in Wellington to give the Boks their first consecutive wins over the two Australasian sides since 2014.
These are not earth-shattering statistics, but slowly, like the improving defensive system, a positive pattern is starting to emerge. Dare we call it a trend?
Next week’s return meeting against the All Blacks at Loftus is suddenly a clash that carries massive significance for both sides, instead of the veneer of a once-important rugby match-up.
During 2016 and 2017 particularly, meetings between the sides were an exercise in hoping the Boks weren’t embarrassed. Which, sadly, they were.
Saturday’s win over the Wallabies was important for obvious reasons, such as underlining that winning is the only currency that really matters at Test level.
But more subtly it showed that Erasmus’s team, tactics and selections are slowly coming together and that backing up that famous win in Wellington was an endorsement of his methods.
The Boks are defending with more urgency, being more selective in attacking rucks, rather keeping men on their feet, using double hits and making good decisions. It’s taken months to mould but there is progress, while the vision to turn defence into attack is another welcome development.
Losing in PE would have been a major setback because the Boks have seldom managed to put two decent performances together since 2015.
The All Blacks clash at Loftus now looms as a contest where there is more than blind hope of the Boks pulling off a win. They were significantly better than the Wallabies in PE and had they taken their chances the contest would have been over by halftime.
As it was, the Boks underlined how much better they can become after squandering many chances, playing with hardly any possession and being cut to 14 men at a critical stage in the game, yet still prevailing.
There is growing character, but more importantly an increased understanding of roles and tactics. Erasmus’s tinkering with selection has slowed as he crystallises his best team in his mind.
Erasmus has used 46 players in nine Tests this season but has started to settle on key positions as his team takes shape, although injuries and form will always scuttle some best-laid plans.
Pieter-Steph du Toit is now essential as a blindside flank, Faf de Klerk has no challenger at scrumhalf and Handré Pollard has settled the flyhalf question.
Siya Kolisi’s form has improved during the Rugby Championship, culminating in a standout display at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, just a few kilometres from where his career started. Barring a sudden loss of form or injury, it’s difficult to see anyone else leading the Boks to Rugby World Cup 2019.
Aphiwe Dyantyi has taken to Test rugby like Donald Trump to Twitter while the tight five (including the reserves) is possibly the best in the world right now, yet still some way from reaching its full potential.
There is a lot to be positive about even though the Boks still go into Loftus as underdogs, despite what All Black coach Steve Hansen will say this week. One win over the All Blacks is not enough for the Boks to have earned that right.