Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Ireland was the most significant result of the season for the Springboks, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The result, rather than the performance itself, should be hailed as heroic given the dreadful first-half display and the character it required from an inexperienced Springbok collective to overturn a nine-point half-time deficit.
Whether it marks a turning point in the tenure of Heyneke Meyer remains to be seen, but the significance of the victory, the young South African squad’s first win away from home, cannot be overstated.
Meyer summed up the performance and result perfectly: "They learned a lot today and it's a step forward," adding, “This means more than beating Australia at home.”
Indeed from a psychological standout, this result means more than any other in 2012. Defeat would have been a hammer blow to the frail psyche of the Bok camp and coaching staff, whose 44 percent win record ahead of the clash had noticeably sucked the self-confidence out of the South Africans.
Granted, it wasn’t the best Irish side that did duty in Dublin, with key figures such as Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connor and Stephen Ferris unavailable through injury, but this doesn’t detract from the Boks’ remarkable fightback.
The patience and composure shown by the Boks in the second half rivalled that of an experienced team. This was, after all, the first Test of their maiden European tour as a group as well as their first time playing under the new laws.
There were some early hiccups at scrum time due to the new crouch, touch, set sequence, but overall the Boks adapted well.
Playing under a northern hemisphere referee, however, proved problematic as the Boks conceded no less than 15 penalties and a yellow card, although it must be said JP Pietersen was rather unfortunate to have being given his marching orders.
Character aside, the major positives from a Springbok perspective was their resolute defence and the performances of European-based pair Ruan Pienaar and Francois Louw.
Boasting a 94 percent success rate on defence, after being asked to make 141 tackles, illustrates why the Irish never came close to crossing the whitewash and were shutout in the second stanza.
Pienaar, as an experienced international and Ulster star, was always going to be the key player for the Boks in Dublin and he delivered in a big way.
He’s not only made the No.9 jersey his own this year but has also established himself as a leader within the squad with his willingness to take much of the tactical responsibility on himself.
Louw has been a revelation and his combination with Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen in the back row is a well-balanced and ever-improving one.
While Meyer should be applauded for the inspired selections of the in-form overseas-based duo, there’s no denying he continues to make flawed selections.
His persistence with Francois Hougaard on the wing and Jaco Taute in midfield is doing these young talents and the team a disservice. Meyer is not the first Bok mentor to play players out of position and he won’t be the last, but their selections are proving to be more of a hindrance than a help at present.
Taute’s future is at fullback, his preferred position. Meyer has acknowledged this, yet his attacking skills remain under utilised in midfield.
Hougaard, on the other hand, is a victim of the utility tag who is made to look out of depth on defence due to the fact that he is, contrary to popular belief, a specialist scrumhalf.
Not only are these selections breaking down the duo’s self-belief, its ripple effect extends to the bench, where specialists Juan de Jongh and Lwazi Mvovo are made to play second fiddle to a fullback and scrumhalf respectively.
Opting for Morne Steyn as an ‘insurance policy’ on the bench ahead of Elton Jantjies also made little sense but for all his curious selections, Meyer has an opportunity this week to give some fringe players a run against Scotland and one I expect he will take.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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