Early days, but Bok omens look promising against #AllBlacks

Jannie du Plessis, the great Sharks man of the recent past, has a wonderfully quaint philosophy regarding criticism.

“When they say you’re good, you’re not as good as they say – and when they say you’re s**t, you’re not as s**t as they say.”

It’s a handy line that cuts both ways and fits the Springboks well, given how they have veered from abysmal to outstanding in a few months.

There are all sorts of caveats to those descriptions, suffice to say that six months is a long time in sport. So much can happen.

In November, the Boks appeared to have fallen off the cliff. They were a wreck.

Now, halfway through the year, they look fresh, hungry and passionate. The joy and ambition which they demonstrated against France was a welcome sight to jaded, gatvol Springbok supporters.

France are a decent side, and to put 30-plus points on them on three consecutive weekends wasn’t a happy accident.

Allister Coetzee has removed the tactical straitjackets from the Springboks in 2017. Photo: BackpagePix

We know the reasons for the turnaround. First, Allister Coetzee was given that most precious commodity – time. This season he also got to hire his assistants, chiefly Brendan Venter and Franco Smith, a pair of men not given to routine thinking.

After getting it wrong the first time, Coetzee was shrewder with his choice of captain, awarding the job to the dignified Warren Whiteley. He also selected a group of form Lions players who were then allowed to play without tactical straitjackets.

There was also a return to the physical imperatives that have defined Bok rugby for so long. Venter might have introduced flash, but not at the expense of force. The defensive game was rigid and squeezed the life out of France.

It was evident, too, that the Boks were playing with a plan. They trusted the plan and carried it out with conviction.

Coetzee, not usually given to unorthodoxy, must be lauded for taking the shackles off.

The building blocks are now in place for the greater challenge of the Rugby Championship. This is where the Boks will be measured because it was at this point last year that things began to unravel.

Warren Whiteley is a respected captain for the Springboks. Photo: BackpagePix

Also, in recent weeks we could sit back and watch the All Blacks engage in their ferocious series against the British and Irish Lions.

Two things are evident: the All Blacks are still staggeringly good, but despite the reviews, not the best of all time. There have been three or four better teams, and that’s why the tourists were able to edge a win on Saturday to level the series.

The New Zealanders still set the standard though, and remain the scalp every half-decent team aspire to claim.

The Lions punched big holes in them on occasion in the first Test, but as Steve Hansen said in the aftermath of the game, they can get down and dirty too. All the sleight-of-hand conjuring is useless without the grunt upfront. They are brutal in the scrums and at the breakdowns.

The Boks won’t need to be told this when they front up in a few weeks. Fortunately, that’s a part of the game they relish.

It was more blunder than thunder last year, but the reliable old beast was back in form against France.

As the touring Lions demonstrated to a degree, you can throw New Zealand teams off kilter provided you do two things: front up physically, and slow down and spoil their ball.

This is easier said than done, granted, but teams that can keep their shape (and heads) have a chance.

Ireland managed to do so in Chicago last November and the touring Lions also managed it against the imperious Crusaders a few weeks back, knocking them back and getting in their faces.

Brendan Venter might have introduced flash to the Springboks, but not at the expense of force. Photo: BackpagePix

This is what the Boks must aim for. Also, as Warren Gatland said, you must score tries if you are to have a hope against the All Blacks. Spoiling is fine, but your own game needs to be imaginative and cutting and capable.

Elton Jantjies enjoyed a stellar showing against France, and must be similarly creative and daring in the Rugby Championship. A meek attitude will help no-one.

These are early days in the Bok renaissance. The omens look promising. Beating the All Blacks is the goal, but for now, all the trajectory need do is point north.

Onwards and upwards.

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