First off was the Luke Watson debacle. Enough about that has been said, and it is pleasing to see that this did not affect the players and the camp too much. But then again, being an expat, you only ever get half the story and half the facts, so a complete version is never really possible to fell an opinion.
Then the whole debate that has been raging for ages regarding the Springbok emblem also threatened to convert a unifying sport into something which divides us as South Africans again. From what SA Promo could gleam over here in the UK, it appears that this is for now resolved, with an agreement being reached to include both the Springbok and the King Protea on the jersey. Win-win for all, we think.
So, for how long this will calm the storm, remains to be seen. And then lastly, there was the rabbit that Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers pulled out of his hat regarding the selection for this tour. With no apparent specialist tight head props of international experience in the original squad, Captain John Smit was poised to fill this role and give up the hooker position to his understudy, Bismarck du Plessis. Not taking anything away from Du Plessis, he is an excellent player and a solid force in tight play, but without the adequate support of a proven tight head prop, the obvious shortcomings of the South African scrum was apparent in the first two tests against Wales and Scotland. Together, choosing versatile back Ruan Pienaar as the first choice fly-half, with the uncapped Earl Rose as his secondary choice, we held our breaths about this gamble of sorts. The other uncapped player on tour, open-side flanker, Heinrich Brussow, was on the bench for the matches on tour. The valuable experience of being part of the set up will hopefully serve Brussouw, Rose and the national team well in future.
But apart from all the off the field antics that SA Rugby seems to force us to contend with everyday, the team proved in these three tests against the Northern Hemisphere’s best, that rugby is after all a game played on a field, and not on paper or in the media. The first test against the reigning Six Nations champions, Wales, started of well for our beloved Boks, but complacency soon crept in, and the Boks only ended up beating the spirited Welsh side by 20 points to 8.
The second test was lined up against Scotland in front of the infamous Murrayfield crowd. The Scots have been having a poor run of form of late and have been struggling to maintain their ranking as one of the top 8 teams in world rugby. The Boks should have beaten them comfortably, but left all the work for themselves to do, and coming back from being 10-0 down at the break, stepping out of the match as eventual victors 14-10. Many a Springbok fan felt that this could be the beginning of the end for us.
Next on our list was old rivals England. Under new management and the stern eye of Martin Johnson, this was shaping up to be our biggest test. A few injuries during the previous matches saw Jannie du Plessis boarding a plane and taking the place of injured brother, Bismarck, automatically occupying the tight-head berth, with John Smit moving to hooker and Danie Rossouw stepping into the fray for injured stalwart and back-row playmaker Juan Smith. These proved to be wise decisions by the management and the Boks never looked like losing to a truly outclassed England team. Five tries, four conversions and three penalty goals, versus a meagre two penalties saw the Boks rising to their World Cup winning best again and settling the nerves of their supporters 42 – 6 being the final score with a Bryan Habana try in the dying seconds making the winning margin 36 points. We think there may be a pattern emerging here.
Ruan Pienaar came into his own at fly-half, and one can only hope that the management will not mess around with the young man too much and let him develop in this role, and become one of our great assets in this position. An overall fitting end to a season under a new coach by the players who realise it is, in the end, all about the game, and not about themselves.