South Africa racked up their third Tri-Nations title on Saturday to cap a dominant tournament-long display. Fate? Fortune? Fervour? All three.
South Africa racked up their third Tri-Nations title on Saturday to cap one of the most dominant tournament-long displays we've seen in many years. Fate? Fortune? Fervour? All three.
While you would expect the whole Republic to be celebrating the addition of the Freedom Cup, Mandela Plate and the Tri-Nations trophy to the Super 14 and the IRB Sevens World Series title to the trophy cabinet, a large part of the population seems to be convinced the IRB and foreign referees are out to get the Springboks.
A couple of incidents seem to lend weight to old adage of 'where there's smoke there's fire,' but we reckon we'll let the dust settle before we decide where that smoke is coming from. We're certainly not ready to support the theory of an IRB conspiracy against the Springboks, though the idea of an independent citing commission appears a logical solution for a number of problems.
For once, let's not dwell on the negatives (for now), let's rather have a closer look at the key ingredients to the Boks' success. I reckon there were three:
Eh? I hear you say, that sounds more like a toast at a wedding. But bear with me and I'm sure you'll agree that 1 +2 = 3.
1 = Health
Much has been written about the class of the current Springbok crop: Fourie du Preez is surely the best player in world rugby at the moment, the line-out is untouchable, Frans Steyn's boot really is a “rocket launcher”…the list goes on.
But a brilliant player is worth nothing if he can't play.
The Springboks came out of a hard-fought series against the British and Irish Lions relatively unscathed. The only player missing from the starting XV in the first Test against the New Zealand was Adi Jacobs – in a position where South Africa had a more-than-capable replacement.
Compare Jaque Fourie coming in for Jacobs to the consequences of losing Du Preez or Byran Habana. Let us not forget the disastrous effect John Smit's injury had on the Bok campaign a year ago.
Call it what you will – conditioning, player management or just plain good luck, Peter de Villiers will be the first to admit the Boks were 'blessed' with a remarkably clean bill of health throughout the tournament.
To put the situation into context, the All Blacks started their season against France missing ten players while Australia were deprived of Stirling Mortlock from the first half of the Cape Town Test.
The Bok leadership's management of the team's training, especially on the road, is worth a mention here. De Villiers' commented on how the squad were not pushed physically while in Australasia – a far cry from Wallaby punch-ups in intense training sessions in Cape Town and Perth.
1 + 1 = 2: Continuity
A healthy group of players allows for continuity in preparation and selection. The Springboks never made more than one change to their starting line-up.
PdV and co. must be given credit for sticking to their guns. Many would argue that most of the team picked themselves, but the temptation to tinker is always there.
In the coaches own words, he had 'learnt the lesson' of the final Test against the Lions, where a host of changes left the Boks all at sea.
It has become clear that while the current starting XV has almost no weak points, the same cannot be said for the bench. Chiliboy Ralepele, Ricky Januarie and Andries Bekker are all good players, but they are not in the same league as those they deputise for.
A rare change – Ruan Pienaar for Steyn against Australia – proved to be worthwhile as Pienaar adding the touch of creativity that the Boks needed in the Test in Perth.
In retrospect, considering the points made above about player fitness, perhaps De Villiers' decision to give a bunch of players a rest in for final Lions Test can be justified. Isn't hindsight wonderful?
Finally, for all those crying 'conspiracy' (yes, Giteau got away with murder, we know) until the Fourie incident, South Africa were not handed down any suspensions. (You might also want to have another look at the tackle in question). The truth be told, PdV probably isn't terribly upset that Fourie will have a chance to rest, rather than risk injury in the Currie Cup).
1 + 2 = 3: Family
One word has stuck out in the comments coming from the South Africa's players over the last year. On a number of occasions “family” has been used to describe the group working under De Villiers, Gary Gold and Dick Muir. One gets the impression these guys would die for each other.
As highlighted above, the Springbok camp has largely been a closed group, growing ever more tightly-knit.
Say what you will about the comments that De Villiers spouts forth in press conferences, the snor (that's moustache in English, Ed.) from Boland has created an atmosphere where players are both comfortable and confident.
The media were (quite rightly) up in arms when the coach produced what many called 'misguided' comments to defend Schalk Burger's wandering fingers against the Lions. But a pattern has emerged here – by playing up to the press, De Villiers takes some of the heat off his players while the press revel in his crazy mutterings.
Every family needs a father figure and everyone feels more comfortable in the knowledge that 'Dad' will stick by you, no matter what.
The decision to recall Burger despite not having played much in the last few months came under scrutiny from many quarters, but continuity in selection takes away the pressure that comes with the threat of being dropped. This allows for an open environment where players work closer together rather than 'compete' for a place in the run-on team.
Add to all this the captaincy of Smit, the rock on which Peter has built his leadership structure, and you have a team of players that have no doubts about the commitment of the man next to them and would follow their leader into the deepest pits of hell.
So, if you're a Springbok fan, raise your glass and drink a toast to health, continuity and family.
By Ross Hastie