The Boks are back, baby!
Two tests between number one and two on neutral ground. Kick to death both times.
And South Africa is still, even after a grim tour of Queensland, and most of the rugby aristocracy barking for the All Blacks to drink Bok blood for the “good of the game” … the number one team a world.
By the skin of the size 50-22 super stretch shorts from Frans Steyn.
Frans was nuts for not moving away from a ball he stole from Damian McKenzie during a tackle.
And yet, even though Jordie Barrett took another late kick, it was Elton Jantjies who had the last laugh.
How did they do it?
Belief, brute force, bloodthirsty spirit, ball skills, boots, blackout bastard and muscle. But not because of Willie le Roux, who was surely retired by Ardie Savea’s men?
His 50-22 attempt was not initiated by a phase in Bok’s half-time. Frans could probably make one from his own test line.
It takes a Steyn to win in 2021.
Yet like many Bok Triumphs, it was built on the solid foundations of Eben Ectomorph Etzebeth, Malcolm Mongrel Marx, Duane Ver-Maul-en, Spicy Plum, and Blood de Jager. But it also featured the delicate hands of the carefree Lukhanyo Am and the territory-eating right foot of Frans.
The Boks kicked less than the All Blacks, but a lot more of their kicks were contested or misplaced.
By my calculations, almost half of Bok’s kicks were picked up by hook and crook. And yes, they persisted in kicking inside the All Black 22, waiting for someone other than a Barrett to catch it clean.
On the New Zealand side, the great Jordie continued his unreal form, while Beauden was good until an unspeakably reckless cross kick to touch in his own 22 with the game hanging in the balance.
The roster appears to lack Sam Whitelock’s IQ, with Etzebeth a stray. The melee held up, for the most part, but an early Bok Bomb Squad got the boost. Only a valiant effort from Ardie Savea and Co saved a few backing scrums.
The midfield battle seemed to tilt the way for the Boks. David Havili is better elsewhere at this level.
All four wings looked dangerous. Tests have been won.
The All Black Cowardly Front Enigma is still unsolved, but might have a blackadder solution. Akira Ioane was not a good candidate for this kind of street fight.
But it was mostly a ping-pong ding-dong battle with a clearly exhausted referee.
The Boks walked more yards with the ball than the All Blacks and lost fewer rucks.
Faf de Klerk varied his distribution, Pollard and Jantjies attacked the line, and the phases were actually over three.
I still think the All Blacks had the best 2021 and can claim the ‘real best’ for now because of the Bok-Wallaby losses, but if they falter on EOYT and South Africa (with the return of RG Snyman and Cheslin Kolbe) win out, the winners of the Lions series can still be considered the best dog.
But that night was a classic slugfest with big hearts on full display: Kwagga Smith and Elton ripped me off the stick for centuries, but they looked like real test animals.
Is this a better mix of kick-chase-run-pass? Yes. And Pollard’s missed kicks on goal always undermine the effort.
To mine, Etzebeth was the man of the match and the man of the Lions series. He chases everything, disturbs, harasses and harasses, is a tractor in melee, carries and tackles like his hair is on fire, and is the pressure valve of the Boks pressure game.
There are still problems.
But backing up a World Cup victory with an undercooked Lions series triumph, then surviving a bubbling bad tour to grab an All Black scalp tells everyone, don’t bury those Boks just yet.
There is a path to greatness if this group (Malherbe, Pollard, Etzebeth, de Allende, de Jager were all in that 2015 semi-final loss) can win these kinds of Tests in 2022 and 2023, with the help young players to come. Mixture is the key.
For one night, Jacques Nienaber understood everything:
1 / the redesign of the first front row
2 / the calibration of D’n A
3 / the goal kicker switch
4 / the shape in the red zone
5 / the screwed up score!
But he has to unplug Willie. Sad but true.
It’s time to celebrate this rare victory! Frans Steyn is now 5-5-1 against the old nemesis. He looked ecstatic.
(He stole that bullet, ref. What is he supposed to do? Put it back in the air?)
The All Blacks will be all the better for these two successful battles. Stronger. Clearer. And personnel decisions will be made.
Rugby is not ruined by style conflicts.