Following the impressive 27-25 win over the All Blacks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, there are a few lessons that the Springboks can head into the short international break knowing.
1. Pollard keeps defences guessing
There was some scepticism surrounding Handre Pollard’s selection against the All Blacks. Some believed he is still “too young and inexperienced” to handle the intensity of a Test match against the All Blacks. The young Bulls playmaker proved everyone wrong by taking the ball to the line strongly, having a purposeful tactical kicking game, being solid on defence, and even picking up two tries for himself in the process. The Springboks have been lacking a true running-flyhalf in recent years, allowing defences to focus their attentions elsewhere. With Pollard now as a potent running threat in the No. 10 jersey, defenders are going to have to hold from drifting off of him, or else he has the ability to carve up a line. Pollard is a much-needed catalyst to reignite the rugby-playing talent of the Springbok backline.
2. Patrick Lambie’s big moment temperament
Patrick Lambie has been a consistent and impressive performer off the bench for a number of years now, however, he often doesn’t get to show his composure and match-winning abilities on the international stage. His final penalty, from 55m out, proved that the 23-year-old has the nerve and power to close out important games. His great running try against the Wallabies the week before was also evidence of his attacking mindset. The problem Meyer now faces is balancing how to utilise both Pollard and Lambie, but it’s a problem that any international coach would gladly accept.
3. Stars in the making
The gamble on the fringe players definitely payed off this tournament. Heyneke Meyer was criticised for including the likes of Teboho Mohoje in the starting XV against the Wallabies and All Blacks, however, the young flanker proved exactly why he deserved to be there, as he played with determination and had some great defensive and ball-carrying moments that demonstrated how snuggly he fits into the Springbok set-up. Cobus Reinach was a great addition when he came late in both games, adding some speed and intensity in the final 10 minutes against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
4. Stick to our strengths, evolve our potential
The Springboks continued to show a clear advantage in the set-pieces, and while the All Blacks did rustle the Boks in the lineout somewhat, the scrums, driving mauls and breakdown situation are clear strengths of the Bok gameplan at this point in time. What was more impressively apparent though was the will to run. On multiple occasions, where the ball would usually be box-kicked out of the Boks’ half, the ball was instead kept in hand and run. These moments either resulted in South Africa gaining huge ground, or great counter-attacking tries, as was the case with Jan Serfontein’s break against Australia, as well as Francois Hougaard’s opening try against the All Blacks. Both originated in our half and showed we have the attacking firepower to compliment our dominant forward game.
5. Discipline wins key matches
South Africa is known to often lack a bit in the discipline department, and after the rough red card Bismarck du Plessis received last year (even though it was not warranted), it definitely had an effect on the team’s attitude going into the match against the All Blacks. The Springboks’ disciplinary record was much cleaner, even outshining the All Blacks, and Liam Messam’s brain-explosion in the dying seconds cost the World Champions the game. We’ve fallen victim to this trap too many times and have lost too many games that would have been won by South Africa if it wasn’t for a hot-headed moment. The composure shown was admirable, and while you can have the big forwards and flashy backs, keeping a cool head is the vital ingredient in winning a World Cup.