Bismarck du Plessis
(Image : SA Rugby)
“But this isn’t a sentimental business…
especially in South Africa.”
Summerhill is not traditional Blue Crane country, so when six of our national birds checked in for the weekend at Ntaba Nqumo (Decision Hill) at the foot of the farm, the portents were good for a Springbok victory. They had chosen one of the most serene spots in the district, with views stretching across the length and the breadth of the Land of Legends. Named for the dilemma faced by the two generals on their next strategic move, this “koppie” is where former prime minister, Louis Botha, took command of the Boer forces from the hero of Majuba, General Piet Joubert, in November 1899. The sight before them surely inspired these two soldiers that this was a country worth fighting for.
In the end, the Springboks got home on Sunday, but it was a close-run thing in which the Welsh played out of their socks, and where our countrymen were anything but convincing. A margin of a single point was hardly suggestive of a team on its way to retaining the World Cup, and in the process the match took its toll in the way of injuries. Our go-to man, Victor Matfield, pulled a hamstring, and Jean de Villiers, whose pained expression as he left the field with a rib injury was a replay for him of the opening match at the 2007 World Cup, could be on his way home.
What the outcome may well have done, though, was signal an early warning of the shortcomings of the kick-and-chase game plan the Springboks persevere with, despite its lack of success in the last year since the rules changed. The modern game calls for the ball’s retention, and you kick your possession to attackers like the All Blacks and the Wallabies at your peril. The match probably also resolved a few selection issues, with Francois Hougaard’s try in the closing ten minutes underscoring the fact that Bryan Habana may well have reached his sell-by date. It took the replacement 10 minutes to score : Habana hasn’t done so in his last 10 matches. Bigger than that though, was the impact Bismarck du Plessis made when he replaced our captain. John Smit has been a talismanic leader of the Springboks for some time, and his 100 test matches are testimony to one of the finest captains to wear the green and gold.
But this isn’t a sentimental business, especially in South Africa, and if the Springboks are going to be at their effective best for the rest of the tournament, John Smit will have to do his inspiring from the bench, and from the change room. He may well have a role to play in the impact department in the closing 15 to 20 minutes of a match, especially when his experience and his leadership will be most needed, but to have him grinding away for 80 minutes is not only asking him to go beyond his most effective range, but it is to deny the Springboks the services of the most destructive Number Two in the world.