The Springboks’ clash with the French proved to be a far more convincing affair than the SA public would’ve liked to believe prior to kick-off. Allister Coetzee’s men showcased a diverse range of skills that helped them to their 37-14 win over France, but with time to reflect on the encounter, there are a few things we’ve learnt from South Africa’s opening match to the 2017 Test season:
The French (currently) aren’t very good
At the risk of sounding pessimistic about the Springboks’ performance, it has to be said that the French lacked any real threat throughout the 80 minute match. Les Bleus, while always unpredicatble, sadly fell towards the more lacklustre end of their playing spectrum. Slow-ball, handling errors, and defensive mistakes gave the Springboks the opportunities they needed to pounce upon. This isn’t taking away anything from a greatly-improved Springbok performance, but the opposition didn’t put up too much of a fight.
Warren Whitley is a deserving captain
Many doubters and critics were sceptical at Whiteley’s appointment as Bok captain, but the Lions’ leader proved to be a perfect fit to direct the new-look Springbok team to their first victory of 2017. While he didn’t get too many opportunities with ball in-hand, the elusive number eight managed to tirelessly put in the hard work off the ball, had an important assist in Ross Cronje’s try, and made the right decisions on whether to go for 3 points or to go for touch and back the Springboks’ lineout – which was one of the better set-pieces on the day.
The Springbok combinations worked
While Allister Coetzee was somewhat stubborn with his selections 2016, the Springbok coach did allow logic to prevail by selecting tried-and-tested combinations for the battle with France. The pairing of Lions’ Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies delivered the game management the Boks needed, while the Bulls’ Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel (while relatively quiet during this year’s Super Rugby tournament) linked cohesively, providing ball and support to the outside backs where possible. Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan (who didn’t have many attacking chances) defended deep kicks well and returned the ball excellently, as they’ve done with their Johannesburg franchise so far in 2017. It’s a positive start to develop an internal understanding between all the Springbok players – something that has been lacking for quite some time.
Malcolm Marx is the real deal
Hooker Malcolm Marx received the Man of the Match award, and deservedly so. The front-rower was immense in the scrum, clinical with his lineout throws, a menace at the breakdown, and even added in some bruising runs for good measure. Marx has the technical prowess to deliver the necessary responsibilities of that of a hooker, but also brings a physicality and ball-carrying option to the game that the Boks have been missing.
Bench proved pivotal
Finding the right balance between the starting XV and the replacements has always been a difficult act for Allister Coetzee to pull off since taking over as Springbok coach, but Saturday’s match showed that he may have found the right mix of players to add that extra impact in the fourth quarter of the game. Francois Hougaard came on and added some pace and deceptiveness to the breakdown, playing an important role in running the ball from the Boks’ own half which led to Jan Serfontein’s try. Frans Steyn also added some experience and calm to the backline with some powerful carries and smart decision-making. How Coetzee manages to rotate players into the starting lineup or keep this system will be the real test.
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