Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Springboks kings of world rugby jungle

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

With Siya Kolisi proudly holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup, it was the Springboks who bellowed their victorious king of the rugby jungle roar at Yokohama last Saturday night with their 32-12 triumph against England.

Few predicted it after England had played like lions in dominating the defending champion All Blacks 19-7 in the semi-finals with a masterful display before being tranformed to pussy cats against the Boks.

In truth, we had forgotten how mentally and physically tough the Boks can be as their forwards won the bruising forward battle and the entire team tackled tenaciously whenever England dared attack.

South Africa’s captain Siya Kolisi. Photo SA Rugbymag

It wasn’t often as Boks first-five Handre Pollard played a fine tactical game and converted the penalties before magical little Cheslin Kolbe and fellow wing Makazole Mapimpi scored the tries.

And so it was South Africa, beaten 23-13 by the All Blacks in their first pool game, who won when it mattered most. And Rassie Erasmus was judged top coach ahead of England’s Eddie Jones and New Zealand’s Steve Hansen.

A night earlier Hansen, skipper Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams and Matt Todd kissed goodbye to their stellar international careers by thumping Wales 46-17.

Having won 100 of his 110 games as head coach, Hansen’s record is amazing. And in the wake of Richie McCaw, Read has been an outstanding captain who stands in nobody’s shadow.

True, he’s not as fast as he once was, but he remains a fine lineout and kick-off leaper, smart ball distributor and tireless tackler. One of rugby’s true greats.
Dynamic Ardie Savea also had a great tournament.

However for me the most pleasing sight of the All Blacks final hurrah was watching Ben Smith beating four Welsh tacklers for his first try before executing the perfect fend for his second.

While Beauden Barrett thrived at fullback in earlier matches before being suffocated by England, Smith and Australia’s Israel Folau had been universally recognised as the world’s two best fullbacks. Against Wales, in waving goodbye, Smith reminded us why.
Interest will centre on who will be the next coaching group now that Hansen and Mike Cron have retired. Loyal Hansen recommends his attack coach Ian Foster who has the advantage of knowing the players.

However there is also a case for Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown who did such a tremendous job in taking an extremely fit, brave and enterprising Japan through to the quarterfinals.

There is also talk that Dave Rennie has been approached, despite earlier reports he was to replace Michael Chieka as Australian coach.

Another strong contender must be Scott Robertson who achieved what Todd Blackadder failed to do by leading the Crusaders to a Super Rugby crown, not once but three in a row. He would be my choice.

With Warren Gatland having achieved for Wales what Graham Henry and Steve Hansen failed to do during their tenures there, he also has impressive credentials although his sights are set on Super Rugby’s Chiefs.

Meanwhile if rugby is to blossom rather than be allowed to wither, the offside law needs to be changed instead of allowing defenders to stand in the faces of attackers.

Many years ago rugby league prospered by changing their old three-yard rule to a 10 metre one. Rugby union should consider  extending theirs to at least five metres.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer.

More from Times Online


- Advertisement -