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The fun has found the Boks again

There is a soft drink company that used to punt its flavoured drink with the slogan “the fun will find you.”

And considering how different the feeling in our rugby is after the month of June, it has never been more appropriate than at the Springboks and SA A teams this year.

Forget the results against France in the three tests and the French Barbarians in the two games this past month, in over 400 minutes of rugby that we’ve witnessed in three weeks, two incidents stand out, and both were this weekend.

On Friday night, the last-minute conversion by veteran scrumhalf Jano Vermaak from the touchline was celebrated by his teammates, who were humming the chorus to the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” as he prepared, like he had won a cup final.

It was a strange and mildly satisfying reaction to a conversion at the end of a 48-28 scoreline, and the smiles were as wide as they’ve ever been on a rugby field.

Then on Saturday night, through an arm wrestle test match where the Boks struggled without their captain Warren Whiteley, the final try – a burst away by Bongi Mbonambi and an inside pass to Rudy Paige to score - sparked massive celebrations by a Springbok team who already had the game won.

The immediate reactions after the test series on social media and in other circles were of praise for the Boks, doubts about the quality of the opposition and a distant thought of the massive challenge of the Rugby Championship coming up in August, where the All Blacks loom large.

For once it astounded me that fans and commentators alike struggled to enjoy a victory, a hard-fought 3-0 test whitewash and the signal of a new dawn for Springbok rugby. Take us back a month ago. There was talk whether the Boks would be able to beat the French team, about how the Boks would struggle without the overseas-based stars and just whether Springbok rugby would be able to pick themselves up from the cold, hard floor they had collided with in 2016.

But they did – through some meticulous planning, a new attitude and culture in the team, and some inspirational coaching by a revamped coaching squad. The result was three solid victories.

The points difference of 23 in the first test was the same as at Ellis Park, and only one point more than in Durban. In each of the three games the Boks scored four tries. In the first tests the Boks conceded two tries, while in Johannesburg they kept the French try-less.

In the process, the Bok forwards re-established themselves as a work unit, a team that could dominate the opposition and who can defend as if their lives depend on it.

This is a far way from the challenges posed by the All Blacks, but it was desperately necessary for the Springboks to find confidence and purpose again in their work on the field.

The introduction of Brendan Venter, credited by several players through the series for his work off the field, saying the right things at the right time, was an exceptional move, and how he complimented with Franco Smith on attack, Johan van Graan and Matthew Proudfoot in the coaching tactics should be applauded.

This team knows all too well that there is a long road ahead before they can challenge the best in the world. They know this is simply a start on a long road to come back from the brink.

They know they hated 2016 to such an extent that no player or coach is willing to talk about it in the Springbok environment. It is taboo, the door is shut. It’s that simple.

To those who would write off the Boks on the strength of their opposition, even they must acknowledge that the spirit, the intent, and the urgency in Springbok play is a lot better than a year ago.

The coaching staff should be complimented for what they achieved, the wins celebrated for what they are – hard-fought test rugby victories.

The 3-0 series win was just what Springbok rugby needed and for once players look happy, content and enjoying themselves on the field.

Anyone in a work environment knows that when employees are happy, things move forward a lot quicker than in a toxic work environment, and judging by the celebrations on Vermaak’s kick and Paige’s try, this is certainly the case among the top players in the country at the moment.

The fun has found the Springbok and SA A players again. They are enjoying their rugby again and there is renewed confidence to take on the best in the world again.

The platform has now been laid and there is hope again.

There is much to build on, and now the coaching team should be backed to ensure that this is no false dawn. That this is the start of a new era. That this team can move forward.

Smile if you’re a Bok rugby fan, the players certainly are. And that is worth its weight in gold. Green and Gold.

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