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Peter Bills is a rugby writer and commentator

Peter Bills: Shades of the past as SA reveal their cup strategy

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Springboks coach Pieter de Villiers. Photo / Natalie Slade
Springboks coach Pieter de Villiers. Photo / Natalie Slade

For South African rugby fans, this was a re-affirmation of principles by the Springboks, a restoration of faith.

A big pack of South African forwards blasted sufficient holes in the New Zealand defence and forced enough mistakes for a big-kicking Bok No10 to bash over penalty goals that won the match.

You could have been watching Naas Botha or any of the old Springbok kicking five-eighths deciding a match.

In his 4-year coaching tenure of the South African national side, Peter de Villiers has never quite had the confidence or credibility to enforce a new playing structure within these Springboks. So they will go to the World Cup at the end of this month playing the type of game that won them the tournament in 2007.

The win in Port Elizabeth was a suitably buoyant send-off for the Springboks in their last warm-up game. Let's face it, any win over New Zealand is worth having and after a disastrous Tri-Nations campaign, this was a much-needed turnaround.

Of course, most of the old cavalrymen were back, the likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn and the du Plessis brothers, to power their side past the visitors. And if you were dreaming, you could perhaps have seen Percy Montgomery landing penalty goals from all over the field to win the last World Cup. Might not Morne Steyn do the same this time?

Who knows, is the short answer. But maybe the most relevant question is whether South Africa can hope to win the tournament by playing a brand of rugby that is four years out of date.

To be fair, the Springboks are not alone in that. England will hope to do something similar.

But there were some clues that ought to concern Springbok fans. Right from the off, it was clear that the New Zealanders wanted to run this ageing South African team off their feet.

And had they finished with their normal clinical efficiency in the first quarter when they butchered at least two clear scoring opportunities and then wasted a third chance, it is quite likely they would have succeeded.

All the inspiration came from New Zealand. Coach Graham Henry will have taken quiet satisfaction from the fact that his below-strength side opened up South Africa's strongest defence with ease.

Not only did this All Blacks side, without potentially nine of their best team, carve holes in the first-choice South African defence but they also scored the only try of the game.

That alone ought to ring some alarm bells for the Springbok coaches. If they are minded to listen, that is. On the evidence of the last four years, they will not, preferring to focus on the positives, which were the forwards and a successful, kicking outside half.

It is a simple game plan and it might succeed. The Springbok scrum was powerful and effective. The performance of the du Plessis brothers and Gurthro Steenkamp was so good it left World Cup captain John Smit looking a forlorn figure on the bench.

Botha and Matfield added a real presence at lock and the balance of the back row looked good. And Heinrich Brussow demonstrated why he will be critical to the Springboks' campaign. If, as is likely, New Zealand and South Africa meet in the World Cup semifinal, the All Blacks will again seek to run the old Springboks ragged. Brussow's ability to delay opponents' ball at the breakdown and compete so effectively on the ground will be invaluable.

Before then, the Springboks will want to see a much sharper Fourie du Preez than we saw yesterday. This win at least ensures the Springboks will head to New Zealand in brighter fettle. Even so, New Zealand's wily coaching trio would have taken plenty out of this match to encourage their belief that the South Africans are eminently beatable.

- NZ Herald

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