NAAS Botha’s time-worn cliche regarding when Currie Cups are ultimately won could be neatly adapted by Peter de Villiers and the subject of Rugby World Cups.

In February and March of this year, the doomsayers were looking at the overall form of South Africa’s Super Rugby teams and predicting a dismal defence from the champions in New Zealand in September but now that Super Rugby is winding down – or should that be gearing up – in June, the Springbok picture is looking decidedly brighter.

With two rounds remaining after this weekend’s games before the play-offs, the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks could well finish in the top six (the Capetonians certainly), while the two SA teams whose Super Rugby race is run – the Lions and Cheetahs – have been the cheerful talk of the competition over the last month because of the enterprising brand of rugby they have been playing. They have been winning significant games, too, with the Johannesburgers victorious in Canberra and Dunedin and the Free Staters downing the Waratahs in Sydney in one of the great upsets in Super Rugby history and then backing it up with a win over the mighty Crusaders in Bloemfontein, and then adding three more home wins.

In the first half of the competition, the Bulls were dire, not to mention dour, but their senior players caught a wake-up, pulled themselves together and the Bulls are again snorting with serious intent.

How relevant is all of this to the Springboks? After all, history shows that good Super Rugby form does not always translate into success on the international stage. The Boks won Tri-Nations titles in 1998 and 2004 after wretched overall Super campaigns but won a World Cup in 2007 on the back of having had two teams in the Super 14 final while in 2009, Bulls players that annihilated the Chiefs 61-17 in the Super 14 occupied the key positions in the Springbok side that swept all before them that year.

The key thing this year is that with all five teams playing relatively well, there is just about unprecedented competition for Springbok places. Bok veterans who were in cruise mode have been jolted out of their comfort zones and are now playing for their positions.

It might also have something to do with the length of the season. If you are, for instance, gnarled veterans in Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, you might look at the year ahead and struggle to get excited about your game in February and March when you know what is coming in September and October.

Springbok fans will be cool with that.

Apart from a number of players coming into form at the right time in June, quite possibly the most exciting thing to happen to the Boks is the injection of intellectual capital in the form of supreme strategist Rassie Erasmus.

The eccentric former Springbok flank proved himself as coach of the Cheetahs – disco lights and all – and also at Western Province but he did not always handle too well the stress of being head coach.

Since working in the background at the Stormers as their primary plotter and planner, he has been instrumental in their success.

Erasmus is a rare rugby brain and when he was a Springbok flank in the late ‘90s, then coach Nick Mallett once memorably said: “If I had 15 Rassies I would beat the All Blacks 15 Saturdays in a row.”

That was testament as much to his ability as a player as to his tactical acumen.

Lest we forget, Erasmus was a key part of Jake White’s team pre-World Cup team in 2007 and he ran the crucial three-week camp in Cape Town while Jake was taking a dirt-tracker Springbok team to compete in the Tri-Nations in Sydney and Christchurch.

Senior Boks later said that the severe conditioning and spot-on planning conducted by Erasmus and fitness man Derek Coetzee (who has also been re-engaged) in that camp was instrumental in the subsequent success.

Erasmus, as we know, then resigned from the Springbok management two months from the 2007 World Cup because he had been appointed coach of Western Province/Stormers, and his place was taken by Eddie Jones, who in turn played a vital role.

It would be fair to speculate that had Erasmus been part of the management team last year, the Boks would not have been caught flat-footed by the speed at which the game had changed, and they might not have slumped to losing five out of six after having won five out of six in 2009.

Coach De Villiers will obviously look at the outstanding defence of the Stormers that has been engineered by Eramsus – just 13 tries in 14 matches is simply astounding and is four better than the second best defensive team, the Waratahs, with the Sharks third on 21 tries conceded and then the rest are miles behind.

The form of the five SA Super rugby teams, as well as the fact that half a dozen almost forgotten Boks are due to return from injury, means De Villiers can take a strong “B” team overseas, and there is also the fact that unlike Robbie Deans and Graham Henry, De Villiers has an enlightened policy on overseas-based players, which means stars of the Northern Hemisphere such as Schalk Brits, Brian Mujati, Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller, Marius Joubert and Joe van Niekerk are in the running.

Possible Bok team with close contenders in brackets): 15 Francois Steyn (Gio Aplon/ Riaan Viljoen) 14 JP Pietersen (Gio Aplon, Odwa Ndungane) 13 Jaque Fourie (Robert Ebersohn) 12 Jean de Villiers (Juan de Jongh, Wynand Olivier) ) 11 Bryan Habana (Bjorn Basson, Lwazi Mvovo, Francois Hougaard) 10 Morne Steyn (Peter Grant, Butch James, Patrick Lambie) 9 Fourie du Preez (Sarel Pretorius, Francois Hougaard) 8 Pierre Spies (Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Ryan Kankowski) 7 Juan Smith (Danie Rossouw, Ashley Johnson, Willem Alberts) 6 Schalk Burger (Heinrich Brussow, Keegan Danie, Francois Louw) 5 Victor Matfield (Andries Bekker) 4 Bakkies Botha (Danie Rossouw, Rynhardt Elstadt) 3 Jannie du Plessis (CJ van der Linde, BJ Botha, Brian Mujati) 2 John Smit (Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Adrian Strauss) 1 Beast Mtwarira (John Smit, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: