Peter Bills: Arrogant South Africa taught a lesson

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The Independent Online

In the land where they filmed 'Lord of the Rings', the world champion South Africans certainly had rings run around them. The Springboks' beating, by four tries to nil at Auckland last Saturday night, was a shuddering wake-up call.

Their belief, arrogance personified, that they could just rock up a few days before this first Tri-Nations Test of 2010 and ignore the ruinously wasting influences of jetlag; that no matter who the opposition, they could just turn up and it would be business as usual, suffered an almighty demolition job.



Bakkies Botha's early yellow carding, not to mention his wild head-butt upon Jimmy Cowan for which he was then suspended for 9 weeks, made the South Africans' lives so much more difficult. His early absence handed an initiative to New Zealand the 'Boks were never able to wrest back.



Bakkies is a God-fearing man but how he squares these ludicrous acts that so damage his reputation and his team's chances with his maker, I know not.



Without a forward base, the 'Boks had nowhere to go. They could not repel forever the hordes of black shirts that rained down upon them in demented fashion. They were second best in the scrums, an on-going concern for them, and beaten at the breakdown.



But from New Zealand's point of view, this was THE rugby performance of 2010 to date and in terms of world importance, highly revealing. It told the entire rugby world two things; firstly, that when these All Blacks have the hunger and desire to prevail, not only are they still murderously hard to get past but they can produce a game of exquisite quality, class and control, not to mention enormous aesthetic appeal.



The pace, movement and rhythm they found, the clever attacking angles they cut and the speed of their counter attacking were all of the highest order.



Secondly, it also revealed that top quality rugby, full of pace and thrilling running especially on the counter attack, is perfectly possible within the current laws if your players are good enough and your coach possesses the necessary courage and conviction. Northern hemisphere sides, please take note.



If you wanted to lay down a marker of a performance for the next 14 months leading up to and including the 2011 Rugby World Cup, this was surely it.



There was so much to admire about New Zealand's display. Their ability to work with the ball at pace and even under heavy pressure at close quarters was exceptional, especially in the first half.



By half time, centres Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu had scored brilliant tries, the first after a stunning break out of defence by man of the match Mils Muliaina. The running, pace, power and ball skills of the New Zealand midfield were in a league of their own. Even players as good as the South Africans Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers looked plodding by comparison.



Overall, this was an exemplary display. Fast, forged on rapidly recycled ball from the breakdown, they proved the old adage that no defence can continually cope if stretched this way and that without respite.



In this regard, the new law interpretations have made an overwhelming difference because they have reduced the negative role of a team's loose forwards and their previous licence to kill or slow down breakdown ball.



South Africa, of course, are not world champions for nothing; like Douglas MacArthur, they will return. Very likely it will be at Wellington this Saturday where they will be so much better prepared.



Mils Muliaina called this game “out and out brutality”. The likely level of physicality at Wellington could make it seem lightweight by comparison. As Richie McCaw said, the All Blacks have laid down a marker; they won't want to dip below that now. And the Springboks have received the mother of all wake-up calls. Something has to give.



But in terms of world rugby, last weekend just gave us a reminder, a subtle nudge that when played properly, this game remains one of supreme artistry and aesthetic appeal. It left for dead soccer's World Cup final 24 hours later, in terms of spectator entertainment.



It is only myopic, insecure coaches who deny players the freedom to play what is in front of them rather than follow their pre-programmed robot-like mantra, who are stuffing up this wonderful sport.

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