The second test between Ireland and South Africa turned out a thriller in the last act of what had been some slow and unexciting early scenes. The curtain came up at Ellis Park and we watched for three-quarters of the game as the South African players went through the motions. Each side had a game plan, but Ireland was the only side executing it. The Springboks could not remember their 'lines' or put into practice their trained moves. They were all over the place.
The Irish were organised and focused from the first whistle. They had, as part, of their planning decided to target Lwazi Mvovo on the left wing. He is very fast but no ball player. They had done their homework and so the Garry Owens were aimed unerringly at his incompetent efforts under the high ball. An error occurred in the twenty-fifth minute and Toner scored. Try converted. Score: Ireland 19 - South Africa 3.
Fifteen minutes later as half time arrived, I had written that Jantjies had missed two penalties and Jackson, his opposite number had goaled five kicks, including the conversion of Toner's try. I wrote that the front five had not affected the match one way or another. Line-outs were reasonably controlled but the backs appeared to be unable to capitalise on opportunities. The Springboks clearly had a script but couldn't read it. Captain Strauss seemed to be a 'hands-off' director. Indiscipline was again inexcusably evident. Tackling and passing were poor. As Donald Trump would have said, "What the hell is going on?!!"
While I had not lost hope, I had seen nothing to make me think there would be a resurgence of such proportions as happened in the last quarter of the game. What was said by Allister Coetzee at the break? I hope he threatened to drop players who were destroying any hope of pace, drive and aggression. I hope he told them basics had to be perfect.
For South Africa, the goal-kicking remained at the level of 'amateur night at Bronkhorstspruit Laer Skool'. But fifteen minutes into the second half, energy, drive and unbridled purpose arrived like a Highveld storm. Combrinck was on the field and the first time he received the ball we saw blistering pace for the first time. Then Willie le Roux broke between two tight forwards and gave a perfect pass to Combrinck on the right wing. His determination to reach the line was palpable. Poor Paddy Jackson had no
chance as Combrinck thundered into and over him. It was a brilliant try. The scorer gave a suitably theatrical gesture of triumph. Score: Ireland 19 - South Africa 10. The game was on!
The tries came one after the other as a resurgent, even resurrected, Springbok team attacked with speed and power. Whiteley's try was a gem. He has the gift of a side-step and beat four defenders to go over. Mostert came on and added further courage and strength. De Allende, suddenly, playing a leading role, broke through some feeble tackling to score a fine try. Then, after some excellent use of the grubber by le Roux, play moved back and forth until, du Toit, supported by Mostert scored under the poles. The Springbok team had scored twenty-nine points in the last scene.
All in all, the performance still gives cause for concern, but the exhilarating exhibition by the home side of what high-class rugby they are capable of, was a tonic. It was an unbelievable comeback. Relief all round.
It's fair to say that the arrival of four Lions players on the field during the match tells its own story. They are members of the dominant franchise in South African rugby. (How Heyneke Meyer took not one Lion's player to the last World Cup remains a mystery. He had a place for a few old soldiers and pals well past their best, and in the end it showed.)
Selection of form-players is critically important. Reputations mean nothing. The reality is Springbok coaches err on the side of caution. There is an attitude of 'loyalty' - even if you play badly you'll get another chance. The modern game should have thrown that sort of thinking off the stage long ago. "Sorry, my mate, but you're out of the cast for the next show. Now your under-study gets his turn."
Policy and practice should dictate that if you play badly, another player gets his chance. There is, no longer, any time for dress rehearsals. Every game is on stage with the curtain up and lights blazing! Act!
My team for the Port Elizabeth test would be:
Fullback: le Roux
Wings: Pietersen and Combrinck
Centres: Mapoe and de Allende (reluctantly: I'd pick Rowan Janse van Rensburg, the 'form' centre at present, but he's not even in the squad).
Flyhalf: Jantjies with standby Brummer, a balanced, composed, thinking flyhalf with a golden boot. (Not in the squad either).
Scrumhalf: de Klerk
Front Row: Mtwarira, Strauss (but Malcom Marx MUST be on the bench) and Redelinghuys. Malherbe is not playing well
Locks: du Toit and Etzebeth
Flanks: Jaco Kriel (when the hell is the best loose forward in South Africa going to be recognised?!), Kolisi and Whiteley.
Of course much of my selections won't happen. Steyn, who is OK, will not be sent back to Paris; Vermeulen will, I hope, be on the bench but there was no fire from him in the last test. He needs a cracker up his backside. Misplaced 'loyalty' will ensure no panic attacks! That's not the way we do it in this country. I hope we win and win well.
(Two schools at which I was once headmaster played and beat their traditional rivals last week: Michaelhouse beat Hilton College 21 -17 and Kingswood College beat St. Andrew's College, some Old Kingswoodian supporter told me, 'comfortably'; whatever that means'. I've played in enough defeats and watched my school teams lose many times, so these victories were sweet. Yet I am no one-eyed fanatic. I have a foot in all four schools in one way or another. I was rector of Michaelhouse but have a daughter, Cal Bray, who is HOD Speech and Drama at Hilton College. I was headmaster of Kingswood College but spent two years of my schooling at St. Andrew's Prep, in Fairlawn House and a short spell at the College in Mullins House.)
I am reliably informed that the spirit in which these school matches were played was exemplary. Not always the case these days when some schoolmasters, like Vladimir Putin, actively encourage doping and then turn a blind eye and retreat into denial. It's a brand new world.