What a feast of scintillating rugby the first southern hemisphere Test match this year dished up for all our armchair connoisseurs. Davie Rennie certainly announced his arrival as the Aussie game changer on our international stage.
Rennie’s new broom swept the petulant Cheika era firmly into the history books. His focused, no nonsense and bloody-minded approach inspired his young team to give the rugby world 89 minutes’ notice that he’s scripting a new chapter in the rich Wallaby history.
His green young guns all came up trumps asking difficult questions of a strangely disconnected All Blacks team under new coach Bob Foster, with both Harry Wilson and Filipo Daugunu very impressive and probably set for long international careers.
This game confirmed my opinion that Foster was a huge All Black mistake. I doubt a Scotty Robinson-coached All Blacks would have given us the spectacle we witnessed.
Which brings me to the once prodigal son that’s matured and was the glue that fused the Wallaby game plan together – James O’Connor.
A prodigious young talent that conquered some personal demons while plying his trade up north, he’s now come of age with a compelling and total performance.
I expect he will be a vital cog in Rennie’s inevitable march up the world rankings.
The underdone Bok’s have a stiff challenge ahead to front our southern hemisphere brothers in a month’s time – if we make it across the pond
Then, there’s the Boks’ supposed conundrum at 10. Pollard’s long-term injury has attracted quite a few barrels of ink, especially on this forum.
The speculation and multiple questions being asked about what we need at 10 to maintain the Boks’ impressive head of steam built up under Rassie Erasmus’s guidance has quite frankly reached comic proportions.
Polly is world-class, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer. A look at history normally points the way and despite me being dubbed a “living fossil” by my 25-year-old son, please bear with me while I dive into SA’s rich rugby ancestry to motivate my assertion that it’s a non-issue.
One of my earliest rugby memories was pre-TV with my ears glued to shortwave radio. I was listening to the brainstrust of Dawie de Villiers and Piet Visagie tying the Wallabies, All Blacks, France and England into knots behind a hard driving monster pack.
They had a rock solid defence while playing the territory game with pin-point kicking and de Villiers sniping breaks while Visagie was the deadly goal kicker and seamless link to legendary outside backs like John Gainsford, Mannetjies Roux and Tom van Vollenhoven.
This came from a long-gone era when the Boks dominated the world game like a colossus; much like the past decade and a half’s All Blacks vintage of Henry-Hansen domination.
The cool winds of isolation started stunting our rugby and our ivory tower was demolished by Willie-John McBride’s Lions in 1974; much like they did to the All Blacks four years prior.
The take-out from that is that we didn’t have a top flyhalf. The selectors picked four different fly halves in four Tests while the most gifted player of his era, Peter Kirsten, was deemed too small and young.
Disgusted, he left the game and became one of the best international cricket batsman of his era.
That however does not mean that a flyhalf is the be-all and end-all for a successful Bok rugby team; it means that every successful Bok team has had a compelling and complementing mix in the 9/10 axis.
So we simply solve our supposed playmaker conundrum by looking at the available playmaker combinations.
At nine we have Faf de Klerk; Cobus Reinach and the young guns Herschelle Jantjies and Sanele Nohamba, while at ten we have Elton Jantjies, Curwin Bosch, Robert du Preez – and my choice and personal favourite Frans Steyn.
I’ve left Damian Willemse out. He’s become a startled deer in the spotlight of an upcoming trainwreck, just like a young James O’Connor was five to eight years ago and I never rated Jantjies at Test level.
Here are my picks.
15.) Willie le Roux (Aphelele Fassi) 14.) Cheslin Kolbe (Rosco Speckman) 13.) Lukhanyo Am (Jesse Kriel) 12.) Damian de Allende (Jan Serfontein) 11.) Makazole Mapimpi (Sbu Nkosi) 10.) Frans Steyn (Curwin Bosch) 9.) Cobus Reinach (Faf de Klerk/Sanele Nohamba) 8.) Duane Vermeulen (Sikhumbuzo Notshe) 7.) Pieter-Steph du Toit (Arno Botha) 6.) Siya Kolisi (Marcel Coetsee) 5.) Eben Etzebeth (Jean-Luc du Plessis) 4.) Franco Mostert (JD Schickerling) 3.) Frans Malherbe (Trevor Nyakane) 2.) Malcolm Marx (Bongi Mbonambi) 1.) Steven Kitshoff (Ox Notshe)
Not quite worth betting the house on but definitely a little something on the side I think.
I expect howls of indignation, but a new combination of Reinach and Steyn in the 9/10 axis will be a nightmare to defend against while Faf entering the fray after 45-60 mins will inevitably spark chaos in the opposition’s established attack/defence rhythm.
This is a win-win I think. Reinach is an excellent technician, but is also deadly around the fringes which will create a split-second defensive hesitation which will set up Steyn to dictate the game.
Curwin Bosch is a prodigious talent. He’s the real deal but is weak defensively so it’s time overdue to get him under Jacques Nienaber and Mzwandile Stick’s tutelage.
It’s a skill set than can be acquired with correct coaching. He can also cover 10 to 15 from the bench if needed and can become vital next year against the Lions.
The Boks currently have an embarrassment of talent and a wise head at the helm to harness it, so no panic stations required.
They have lots of “workarounds” available to fill any perceived weaknesses or gaps. The necessary extended squad of up to 48/50 players will also give some young nuggets exposure to become polished up for the future while becoming imbued with the Bok spirit and work ethic.
A unique “on-the-job” Springbok finishing school opportunity bar none.
Move over and pass the biltong and popcorn please.