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Bionic defence and the curse of Carisbrook

Pretty it certainly wasn’t. But it did send a tingle down the spine and had the synapses firing all over the place, didn’t it?

Saturday’s win over the Wallabies in Perth saw the Springboks roll over a side that have, in the past six weeks been mauled and battered so badly that one could justifiably feel a little sorry for them. Not only did Eddie Jones and company have to contend with the fact that injuries and age had ripped the heart from their side, but they were also up against a baying horde of supporters who were calling for heads to roll if the side didn’t shape up.

And try mightily the Wallabies surely did, running themselves ragged into the teeth of a ferocious defence that just never backed down.

Of course, the question remains whether the Springboks — who are building to win the 2007 World Cup — can keep playing a game geared towards near-bionic defensive work without sacrificing one or more of its stars prematurely.

I mentioned earlier in the tournament that my main concern is the Springboks’ ability to score tries created through positive attacking play by the flyhalf and centres, and I am still a little worried about this.

Saturday’s match could very easily have gone to Australia, had it not been for tries scored against the run of play. In fact, the Boks have not really scored on attack for a while and this state of affairs needs to be looked into as a matter of urgency.

It’s all very well to tackle the guts out of the opposition and capitalise on their mistakes, but keeping ball in hand and using possession to score tries is what makes rugby rugby.

That’s unless Jake White has happened upon a formula that works the other way around — one that, strangely, seems to be paying rather good dividends at the moment.

In any event, what is most important is that White has done three things very well: he’s made players and fans see the value of the squad system; he’s effectively shielded his players from the laughable goings-on at administrative level back home; and he’s won a Test in Australia and looks on course to retain the Tri-Nations trophy.

What all this means is that White is good for Springbok rugby and clearly has the best interests of fans and players at heart. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a damn about who’s running the game from the boardroom — just as long as he’s able to field the side and win the match. I like that kind of approach, but I also clearly have absolutely no idea of the pressure the man’s under.

For White to manage and steer a squad like this through a season like the one ahead takes real guts and I believe Bok supporters owe this man big. Not just for making us proud of our rugby again, but for having the brains and courage and self-belief to see his plan through.

Moving on.

The loss of Breyton Paulse is a blow to the Springboks, but it could just see a small change leading to a world of good. Let’s assume that Jacque Fourie is moved from outside centre to wing and Jean de Villiers takes his place. That gives us the tantalising proposition of seeing De Wet Barry back at inside centre with De Villiers to run off him.

At the start of the season, I was calling loudly for just such a combination, and I still believe it might very well be the key to unlock the Boks’ scoring potential on attack.

Couple this to Barry’s already proven defensive work, and we could just see some real fireworks. The bone-crusher has been rested for a while and should be well-whetted for a return to the Bok jersey.

Apart from this change, I don’t believe there shouldn’t be too much tweaking done to the side if it can be helped. Gurthro Steenkamp’s broken hand is rather unfortunate, as is the injury to flanker Pedrie Wannenburg, but White’s squad system has not let the Boks down thus far and might just pull them through again.

Of course, just as things are looking up, there’s the matter of dealing with the All Blacks in Dunedin. Now, there are only a few things worse than playing New Zealand at Carisbrook and they all happened to Mel Gibson in the final minutes of Braveheart.

It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable and it’s just not pleasant — at least not from a player’s perspective. Winning there against the Highlanders is almost impossible; winning there against the All Blacks is a metre or so beyond the realms of possibility.

The point is, the Springboks are not going to win on Saturday — so don’t get upset and have a domestic with the kids or wife or your mates because they didn’t.

If all goes well, the Boks will win another day at another venue, but victory at the House of Pain will not come easily.

It probably won’t come at all.

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