Springboks eye away day glory
August 24, 2009
The boot of scrum-half Fourie du Preez will be a key weapon as the Springboks go in search of Tri-Nations glory © Getty Images
The Tri-Nations is South Africa's to lose from here, but a cursory glance at the Springboks' modest away record in Australia and New Zealand suggests it will be foolish to take it for granted.
Since 1996, South Africa have only managed to beat Australia and New Zealand twice in away matches.
The Boks did the double in Perth (14-13) and Wellington (13-3) in 1998, but after that had to wait until 2005 for their next away victory Down Under, when they pipped the Aussies 22-19 in Perth. South Africa's next away Tri-Nations win was the 30-28 victory over the Kiwi's in Dunedin in 2008.
What does this tell us? For one that the Boks don't win away from home that often in the Tri-Nations. Secondly, when they do, the margins are mostly modest. So what justification is there for making South Africa overwhelming favourites to win the competition from here?
Well, for one thing, this is as impressive a Springbok side as there has been post-isolation. They are strong in every department. The All Blacks looked fearful as they were demolished in Durban and their suicidal game plan of running the ball from their own territory was indicative of a team and coaching staff bereft of answers.
Little wonder then that their coach, Graham Henry, had a whinge about the modern game's emphasis on tactical kicking. But what did the All Blacks'and Wallabies' emphasis on ball-in-hand rugby produce in their last game? That's right: One try!
South Africa have also been criticised from some quarters on their own shores for their current narrow approach to the game, which is built on the best lineout in the world, accurate tactical kicking by scrum-half Fourie du Preez and a deadeye-dick flyhalf in Morné Steyn.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers should do no more than ignore the criticism and continue instructing his side to play to their strengths. Henry was complaining for one reason only, and that is because his team could not muster an answer to what the South Africans were throwing at them.
The pessimists put the Bloemfontein victory down to the All Blacks being jet-lagged, but South Africa's win in Durban was even more emphatic and delivered their first series victory over the All Blacks since 1976.
Why then change a winning formula? The old adage of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' certainly applies to Bok rugby.
That said, and putting the irritation of Henry aside, it would be similarly foolish to write off the All Blacks. Having managed to grind out a result in Sydney, they will fancy their chances against the Boks in Hamilton and the Wallabies in Wellington.
You also can't envisage Dan Carter getting any worse after an impressive comeback in which he slotted the winning kick. But South Africa hold the aces, with Du Preez's tactical kicking and generalship placing them a cut above their Southern Hemisphere rivals at this stage.
The South Africans should in no way fall for Henry's bait. They should simply ignore the critics and stick to the blueprint that has yielded impressive results thus far. History might suggest they have their work cut out overseas, but this team has the experience and wherewithal to deliver the country's first Tri-Nations title since 2004.
Rumours abound of Ruan Pienaar possibly playing fullback in place of Frans Steyn, or probably returning in the No.10 jersey in place of Morné Steyn.
Hopefully De Villiers resists all such temptations and simply sticks to the formula. If Henry doesn't like it, it must be good for South Africa!
The International Rugby Board (IRB) finally made an announcement this week on the findings of an "independent committee" in the South African Rugby Union's (Saru) hearing for the Springboks' armband protest against the British and Irish Lions. If anything, the whole episode pointed to a lack of sound judgement on a broad front.
For any reasonable soul, this was an open and shut case. The South Africans took a protest too far and foolishly wore white armbands in the third Test. Their leaders should have conceded this point and apologised in public. If common sense prevailed, the IRB would have accepted such an apology and it would have been a matter of case closed.
This was not a situation that demanded a hearing involving senior counsel, but ended there because of a lack of administrative savvy.
South Africa's unwillingness to condemn the armband protest is only marginally less ridiculous than an IRB press release stating that the independent committee was unanimous in its view that Springbok players and management could have been suspended from the next World Cup (such a sanction to have been suspended in the absence of further misconduct) had it not been for a legal technicality.
Suspend top Springboks from Rugby World Cup? Apartheid was a good enough reason for a suspension, but armbands? Give us a break.
Bryan Habana will not be playing his rugby in the Northern Hemisphere from next year after all. Instead, he has sent shockwaves through Blue Bulls rugby with a planned move to arch-rivals Western Province, with whom he is expected to sign a deal until 2011.
It's a strange move, especially considering that the Bulls have been significantly more successful than the Stormers in the Super14.
It's a great signing in anyone's book and will put bums on seats for WP. The only question, of course, is how much desire Habana still has having achieved it all at provincial and regional level. Only time will tell whether rugby or lifestyle was the determining factor in the proposed Cape move.