Boks pass another difficult examination as Rassie’s rebuild continues
The Springboks passed a tough Test on their slog through Britain and France at Murrayfield on Saturday‚ to add another small entry in coach Rassie Erasmus’ improving catalogue.
The 26-20 win over a very good Scotland team was the Boks’ seventh of the year and their third away win of the season‚ which is as many road wins as they achieved in two years under Allister Coetzee.
Erasmus inherited a team in disarray after two seasons of record losses and embarrassing performances. He has slowly pieced the parts back together to make the Boks a force in world rugby again.
They are still some way off the consistent standard set by New Zealand‚ Ireland and even Wales‚ who have been under the same head coaches for a collective 22 years.
The Boks are on their third coach in as many years and while their consistency and depth is not at the same level‚ they are as good as any of those teams on their day.
And even on a bad day‚ the Boks are competitive again.
Erasmus’ decision to give Embrose Papier a start at scrumhalf against Scotland paid off with the 21-year-old unflustered and effective.
Papier played a big part in the opening try for Jesse Kriel and he was calm with his decision-making from the base of rucks.
His passing accuracy and speed though‚ are under par at this level.
He took too long to get his passes away at times and they were often inaccurate and floaty. But it’s an area that hard work will improve. The rest of the ingredients are there.
And that is a good thing for the Boks‚ who went on this tour with a duel mission of winning and growing.
They’ve passed both with two wins from three so far while players such as Papier‚ Ivan van Zyl and S’Bu Nkosi have moved into the next phase of their Test development.
The Boks have also won two tough games by showing good composure and raising their intensity and focus at critical moments.
Last week they calmly spent four minutes after the final hooter constructing the winning try against France and on Saturday they raised the pace and ferocity of their game when fullback Willie le Roux was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on.
The Boks didn’t lose any ground during the period while he was off the field‚ landing a penalty to cancel out Scotland’s penalty for Le Roux’s infringement‚ which was a vital passage in the overall outcome.
“We’re learning how to close out games and that’s why we won this game because Scotland were as good as us on the day‚” said Erasmus.
“The maturity of this team is starting to show because we are now winning games from tight situations. We scored three points when Willie le Roux was off the field with a yellow card.
“We did well at the breakdown‚ especially our work at the defensive breakdown where we won managed to win vital turnovers at important times.”
Erasmus also lauded Papier‚ who made his first start in the No 9 jersey for the Springboks and had a good game next to man-of-the-match Handre Pollard.
“I really think that in the case of Embrose‚ we got it right‚” said Erasmus.
“We thought this was the right game for him‚ on this pitch and the way Scotland play suits him well‚ and he also handled it very well. Credit must also go to (Springbok assistant coaches) Mzwandile Stick and Swys de Bruin for the way they’ve blooded him into Test match rugby.”
The Boks’ final outing of the tour is against Wales in Cardiff next week.
Wales have won the last three matches between the sides since the Boks dramatically beat them in the quarterfinals at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Erasmus will again have a juggling act about blooding some players and wanting and needing to end this losing sequence against a strong Welsh side that has already accounted for Australia this November.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe‚ Trevor Nyakane‚ Schalk Brits‚ Louis Schreuder and Ruhan Nel have not had a chance at all on tour.
Barring injuries‚ it’s unlikely they will either.