Cape Town – Amid all the Rassie Erasmus controversy this week, the penny has finally dropped for the Springboks on the field of play: they can actually play a running game and get the ball to the wings more often.
It is often said that in rugby, you learn more from a defeat than a victory, and that seems to be the case for the Boks ahead of Saturday’s Test against Italy in Genoa (3pm SA time kickoff).
It was a desperate South African outfit that nearly did the impossible by beating France at a heaving Stade Velodrome in Marseille with 14 men, following Pieter-Steph du Toit’s unfortunate red card for a dangerous ruck clean-out in the 12th minute.
They were well on their way to getting the job done as they led 26-22 with about 15 minutes left – although France captain Antoine Dupont was also red-carded for a dangerous challenge on Cheslin Kolbe soon after halftime.
But Deon Fourie’s questionable yellow card with 10 minutes to go saw the French roar back with a try and a penalty to close out a 30-26 triumph.
The Boks, though, had played with great fervour on attack especially, despite being a man short. Willie le Roux was prominent as a playmaker, Damian Willemse danced his way around a few defenders, and Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse were given licence to run at France.
And, listening to captain Siya Kolisi speak during a press conference on Friday, that is the same blueprint that will be followed against the Azzurri at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
“It’s frustrating for us as a team… We played so well (against France) and we lost by such close margins. Last week, we headed in the right direction, but the game and sport that we’re in is all about results – and the result doesn’t show that,” the Bok No 6 said.
“But we know internally, here is a group that, what we want to do and the stuff that we are working on is improving a lot – and that’s what we want to do, to make sure that we do improve. But most importantly, we really want to win this weekend.
“We tried a couple of different things… I’m sure you would’ve seen in the game that we played last week, we ran a whole lot more with the ball in a specific plan.
“The coaches just want us to go back to what we were doing. They want us to be excited to play – not that we weren’t excited about the way that we were playing before.
“But you look at the guys in our team and what they are good at… That’s what we want to go to. We love defending as a group, and I think we defend well as a group.
“But we’ve got guys like Cheslin, guys like Kurt-Lee at the back, and Willie, who creates opportunities for players, and Gaza (Willemse) at flyhalf who plays on instinct – that’s what the coaches are encouraging, for us to do.
“We want to try and play as many ways as we can, to see what is the best way. For us, we change our game-plan within one week – I don’t think a lot of teams around the world can do that – and we are doing it against the world No 1 and the world No 2.
“That is something that we want to build on as a group. We’ve still got our strong kicking game that we know we can do very well, but our attacking is also improving.”
Italy are no pushovers any longer, and held off Australia 28-27 last weekend. They will play with their usual passion, but are also more streetwise and technically better under New Zealand coach Kieran Crowley – who was previously in charge of the Benetton team that walloped the Bulls in Treviso last year.
Captain Michele Lamaro will lead their charge, literally and figuratively, so the Boks will have a fight on their hands at the breakdowns, where they will hope to get a fair deal from English referee Matthew Carley after some debatable decisions from his countryman Wayne Barnes in Marseille last week.
Teams for Genoa:
Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo 14 Pierre Bruno 13 Juan Ignacio Brex 12 Luca Morisi 11 Monty Ioane 10 Tommaso Allan 9 Stephen Varney 8 Lorenzo Cannone 7 Michele Lamaro (captain) 6 Sebastian Negri 5 Federico Ruzza 4 Niccolo Cannone 3 Pietro Ceccarelli 2 Giacomo Nicotera 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Bench: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi 17 Ivan Nemer 18 Simone Ferrari 19 David Sisi 20 Manuel Zuliani 21 Alessandro Garbisi 22 Edoardo Padovani 23 Tommaso Menoncello.
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux 14 Cheslin Kolbe 13 Damian de Allende 12 Andre Esterhuizen 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse 10 Damian Willemse 9 Faf de Klerk 8 Jasper Wiese 7 Franco Mostert 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Marvin Orie 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ox Nche.
Bench: 16 Malcolm Marx 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Vincent Koch 19 Eben Etzebeth 20 Kwagga Smith 21 Evan Roos 22 Cobus Reinach 23 Manie Libbok.