Expectations rise for world champion Springboks

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Respected South African rugby writer Gavin Rich, in his BusinessDay column, said the Springboks had regained their aura since Rassie Erasmus took over the coaching of the side in 2018.

 

Rich compared South Africa's rise with the change in fortunes of Argentina, who had beaten the Springboks in Erasmus' first Test in charge. In that Test, Erasmus was experimenting ahead of what he felt was a more important challenge against the All Blacks in Wellington a week or two later.

 

"The Boks hit the objective that Erasmus had set them by winning in Wellington, and it has been pretty much a case of up and up since them," he said.

 

Argentina, by comparison, had spent last Saturday's Test playing a spoiling game aimed at minimising the loss they would suffer. This was a step back for them, from the entertaining, ball-carrying style of game that emerged in both the Pumas and the Jaguares in Super Rugby that saw the Argentinians contest 2019's final.

 

The tables had turned with South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup and taking out the series against the British & Irish Lions.

 

"When a team graduates to becoming a champion unit expectations start to change," Rich said.

 

"It is becoming clear that in time, it will not longer just be acceptable for the Boks to win; they will need to do so in style if their supporters are to be completely satisfied."

 

Rich said it was tempting to laud the players when looking at where they had come from since their 57-0 loss to the All Blacks in Albany. But the difference was clear.

 

"It lies in the coaching, just as it did when Nick Mallett took over a woeful Bok team after a Lions series defeat in 1997 and turned them into winners in Europe and then Tri Nations champions.

 

"Jake White did the same when he replaced Rudolf Straeuli in 2004. The current success, and the reason Argentina are now looking at damage limitation against the Boks rather than believing they can win, comes down to the coaches, and in particular the man who started the revival, Erasmus," he said.

 

Rising expectations in the Springboks' performance were reflected in the criticism when they failed to achieve a bonus point against an Argentine team that started with promise only to buckle under South Africa's physical defence and aerial game.

 

Argentina quickly moved into spoiler mode, conceding a string of penalties that the Springboks used to extend the score.

 

"And when they scored two tries relatively soon after the start of the second half, it was clear they were providing a quintessential example of the subdue-and-penetrate approach that has been the traditional SA way for more than 100 years," Rich said.

 

That they didn't win by more was down to substitutions and the injury suffered by halfback Jaden Hendrikse that reduced the Springboks to only six backs.

 

"When they did score right at the end, they worked hard for it and appeared to see the try as a kind of win.

 

"Clearly scoring against the Bok defensive system has become an achievement and the 19-point winning margin for the world champions is just becoming the expectation. It is what happens when you graduate from being contenders to champions," he said.

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