The Springboks put on a truly dominant display at Loftus on Saturday. They managed to come out on top with a whopping 43 - 12 victory, to hand Eddie a baptism of fire on his return to Southern Hemisphere rugby. The Boks laid out a mixed team of some very experienced players along with some relative new comers, but what did they get right at Loftus that they failed to in Bloemfontein in 2022?
Dubbed the Springboks B team, someone had clearly forgotten to let the players themselves know that. I also highly doubt anyone would be brave enough to say that to the face of the immovable Frans Malherbe or the slick skilled Lukhanyo Am. Be that as it may, they left their actions on the field do the talking, and talk they did.
The Springbok coaches used the Loftus test to test their depth, similar to what they had tried to do against the Welsh in the second test in Bloemfontein last year. How then did the results end up so differently? Well, the coaches learned from some of their mistakes this time around. The Springbok side that played in Bloem was:
South Africa: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Kurt Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Jaden Henrikse, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Thomas du Toit. Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Deon Fourie, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse.
From this you can see that there were just too many uncapped or inexperienced players in the side. The only truly established Boks that took to the field were Handre Pollard, Pieter-Steph, Eben, Trevor and Thomas. The bench was also understocked in that only Marx and Willemse were there with experience in case of emergency. The new combinations failed to fire and unfortunately that was the last shot some of them got with the Springboks with Gelant, Fassi, Coetzee all having fallen firmly out of favor.
RasNaber were much wiser this time around, particularly with their backline selections. Keeping Cobus Reinach, Lukhanyo Am and Willie Le Roux in the starting XV was an absolute master stroke. You had an experienced 9 to work with Manie on his first test start. You had Am, our defensive captain there to ensure line integrity and to keep everyone calm and in the big moments. The addition of Willie at 15 was also crucial as he guided two inexperienced wingers through the test. Willie was cool calm and collected at the back and his confidence allowed the younger wings to play to their natural abilities.
In Bloemfontein a year ago, it was a mismatch selection with too many youngsters and players who were lining up alongside one another for the first time. In Pretoria the spine of the team boasted experience and this allowed the other players to settle and grow throughout the game.
Further evidence of this astute selection shows that in Bloem Andre Esterhuizen and KLA were almost obsolete. In this game, given a core spine of players to work around, Andre had his best game to date in the Green & Gold, whilst KLA was able to score a hattrick, breaking the line almost at will.
I am very happy that the Bok coaches learned from the humbling in Bloem and gave the guys at Loftus a much better platform to play off. I won’t delve into the forward much as at this point it feels like we could play anyone in the squad currently and they’d be able to get the job done. But even there you had Van Staden alongside Thor and PSDT in the back 3 plus a world cup winning front row to guide Kleyn and Orie doing their thing in the engine room.
The Boks have shown that we have built up incredible depth since 2019, now we need to put the finishing touches on our playing style and we will be ready to begin our title defence come 08 September 2023.