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Rugby | Springboks

Ernesto Valverde © BackpagePix

Boks glow in the PE chill

The Springboks brought some much needed warmth to a chilly Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with a solid performance and emphatic 37-15 win over the Pumas in their opening Castle Lager Rugby Championship engagement on Saturday evening.

The match was played in dry conditions but the cold front that swept across the country over the past few days lingered just long enough to bring some discomfort to the large crowd crammed into the Port Elizabeth venue, with a cold wind swirling around the stadium. The Bok fans would have left with their hearts feeling warmed, however, thanks to a rousing Bok showing in precisely th’e areas where the Argentinian team expected to be strong.

For that read first phase, in particular the set scrums, where home tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen rose above the criticisms and question marks about his abilities in his primary role with a stellar performance that deservedly earned him the man of the match award. Let it be added that his contribution in the scrums did not detract from him producing his usual omnipresent showing in general play.

The Pumas base a lot around their strong scrumming platform, and they would have been demoralised by the way the Bok eight stood up to the challenge and then dominated them. The scrum laid the early psychological blows against opponents who have proved dangerous customers against the South Africans over the past few seasons.

If the scrum led the way, kudos must also go to flyhalf Elton Jantjies. With the wind swirling as it did, Jantjies showed great temperament in landing every place-kicking opportunity, in the process accumulating 17 points with four conversions, some of them from tough angles, to go with three penalties.

Jantjies’ allround game was also good, and he is improving rapidly with his ability to control a game at this level. On the day his regular halfback partner Ross Cronje looked a little off his game, giving the perception he was a few yards behind his usual sharpness, perhaps a legacy of the injury that kept him side-lined from training for part of the build-up.

There were times when the Boks were a bit lateral on the attack, but there were also other times when they handled, passed and switched impressively, with the first half try, scored by wing Courtnall Skosan as he wriggled through a clutch of defenders off a superb inside pass, being an example of that.

The Pumas are known for their ability to strike from broken play and it was from a counter-attack from deep inside their own half that they scored their first try. After the initial burst out of trouble near their 22, the ball was taken upfield and when it was kicked towards the left corner scrumhalf Martin Landajo was up to pick up on the bounce and go over untouched.

That was after 32 minutes, when the Boks had been leading 6-0 after well kicked penalties from Jantjies in the 11th and 19th minutes. Flyhalf Nicholas Sanchez missed the conversion to enable the Boks to retain their lead and they were never headed in the game, with the fact that Sanchez missed his kicks – he also missed a 27th minute penalty – and Jantjies landed all his kicks being one of the essential early differences between the teams.

There was much more to the Boks than that though, and they were ahead in all the relevant statistics heading towards halftime, enjoying 64 percent of the possession. The Pumas linespeed defence was good though, and it was one of the reasons that the Boks took their time to break the South Americans down.

The Pumas, as expected, were extremely physical, but that aspect of the game was blunted by the Boks, who again played with the clear sense of purpose, passion and intensity that was glaringly absent from their game throughout a troubled 2016.

The Skosan try four minutes from the break ensured that the Boks held a deserved 13-5 lead at halftime, but the Boks’ performance in the second half was more impressive than what they produced in the first.

Sanchez did bring his team back within a score of the Boks early in the second half, but Jaco Kriel won a turn-over penalty for the Boks in the 47th minute that Jantjies converted from long range to restore the eight point lead.

The chances of the Pumas repeating what they did at Kings Park in 2015 by winning the game were diminishing by the minute, with the Boks gaining in confidence the longer the match lasted. Jantjies put in a good line kick from a penalty to put the Boks on attack, and while they didn’t achieve their first objective of scoring off a driving maul, another penalty ensured that the pressure was sustained.

From the resultant lineout five metres from the line the Boks carried the ball to the left, with Oosthuizen and Beast Mtawarira taking it in turns to overcome the Puma linespeed by making inroads across the gainline which enabled them to create space to the right when the ball came back the other way and Raymond Rhule ran over to score.

The Jantjies conversion made it 23-8 and the Boks were more than two scores ahead. The Pumas struck back with a well worked try to wing Emiliano Boffelli, but it did not deter the hosts, who were spurred on by a boisterous crowd. On a day where Cronje wasn’t quite his usual excellent self, the introduction of Francois Hougaard appeared to make a difference to the sharpness and accuracy on attack.

Wing Rhule got away an excellent pass in the tackle as the Boks broke the Puma defence down going left and rght before Siya Kolisi scored a highly popular try in the city where he was schooled. Talking about products of Port Elizabeth, young Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch also got a rousing ovation when he came onto the field shortly before the end to earn his first Bok cap.

The game was long over as a contest by then, with Pieter-Steph du Toit, impressive in his substitute role, scoring the fourth Bok try.

Aside from the names mentioned there were several players who did well for the Boks, and new No 8 Uzair Cassiem was one of those. Were it not for a brilliant ankle tap, Cassiem would surely have scored as he wriggled through at a point of the second half. He was also a combative presence at the breakdowns, and was responsible for forcing a crucial turn-over penalty.

Skipper Etzebeth was impressive in getting through a mountain of good work in blunting the Puma physicality and giving his team some oomph at the gainline, while Franco Mostert, his second row partner, has a work-rate second to none.

Overall it was an impressive start to the Championship for the Boks, their best in some time, and though there are improvements to be made before they get to Salta for the return clash next week, they should have been happy with their day’s work.


South Africa 37 – Tries: Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit; Conversions: Elton Jantjies 4; Penalties: Elton Jantjies 3.
Argentina 15 – Tries: Martin Landajo and Emiliano Boffelli; Conversion: Juan Martin Hernandez; Penalty: Nicholas Sanchez.


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