I, for one, am entertained
I thought that at some point, like Russel Crowe in Gladiator, Adriaan Strauss would stand with his hands raised to the sky and shout at the crowd: “Are you not entertained!” Certainly, those ancient gladiators would have stood in awe at the sheer ferocity of his play. He led from the front, but was not alone. Francois Louw showed that he is now the undisputed first choice in his position. Willem Alberts came back from injury and played a good game. Mostly, it was the attitude of the forwards that impressed me. Even Spies, often criticized, pulled out all the stops and reminded us that he can do more than stand in the backline. The tight five also played well. Eben and Flip seemed to work well together and I thought Beast had a good game.
The better breakdown improved Ruan’s play while Morne was a great running and passing fly-half. It’s too bad that his kicking failed him. In general, the backline looked really dangerous. JJ is growing into his position and I doubt that de Jongh will replace him now. I am also liking Willie Le Roux more and more. He made a few mistakes, but balanced them out with brilliance. If there is one thing you can say about him, it’s that he is never average. Hopefully, with experience his errors will disappear and we will be left with a truly world class fullback. Habana reached his 50th try and showed that at least for a while the young guns breathing down his neck will have to wait. I am saving my comments on our tough as nails, solid as a rock, cool as a cucumber Captain for a later post.
A lot can be said about the Samoans as well. I have seldom seen a side so intent on maintaining possession. Their ball handling was spectacular, although James So’oialo did take it a bit too far. The big bruising players just kept running and running at the Bok defense, offloading with ease and occasionally finding a gap. It is a sign of a significantly improved defensive effort from the Boks that the Samoans were not allowed back into the game. If we had slipped or lost concentration, even for 10 minutes, I think the Samoans could have been right back in it. Instead, the Boks held their composure, while the Samoans lost theirs and devolved into a side without discipline.
I do, however, have a bone to pick with the referee. He was too good. Fair and consistent, he policed the breakdown strictly and even handed out a yellow for repeated infringement. This test series was supposed to give our young team experience. In that sense, last week was much better. The last thing that our team needs, is to get used to this kind of officiating. I don’t expect to see it again any time soon.
This brings me to another slight reservation. We ended up playing with an extra man for 20 minutes during which we scored 4 tries. Last week against Scotland, we also came back into the game when we were a man up. I worry that we will come to rely on these windfalls. Of course this is not a criticism, since it isn’t our fault that our opponents are ill disciplined, just an observation.
In general, it seems that Heyneke Meyer does indeed listen to the public. Last year we demanded more entertaining rugby, and boy did the Boks deliver.