STATE OF THE GAME: Adaptability, confidence and simple joy leave South African rugby in rude health

STATE OF THE GAME: Adaptability, confidence and simple joy leave South African rugby in rude health

Not even a notorious highveld thunderstorm could dampen the feel-good factor around South African rugby, after the Bulls and Lions won entertaining URC clashes against the Stormers and Sharks respectively.

The two matches were 70km apart at Ellis Park and Loftus Versfeld, but they connected local rugby through excellence and, yes, joy.

Ever since the Springboks gloriously won Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, to retain the title they had won in Japan four years earlier, South African rugby, on the field at least, seems to be operating in a warm glow. At boardroom level there is some tension, but that’s a story for another day. 

Besides obvious skills, huge physicality and tactically astute performances for the most part, players seem to be going about their business with smiles.

Ben Loader of the Stormers on his way to score a try with tackler Marco van Staden of the Blue Bulls during the URC match between Bulls and Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on 2 March 2024. (Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

Rugby for rugby’s sake 

It really does feel like players — which extends to fans as well — are enjoying themselves more than ever. There is a wonderful sense of connection to rugby for rugby’s sake.

It could be that playing summer rugby is finally catching on, but it’s more likely down to the fact that three of the four teams are  playing such an eye-catching brand of rugby.

“These guys are always ‘all-in’. Not to mention their versatility in terms of being able to cover more than one position and the ability to unlock defences and create scoring opportunities. It’s a privilege.”— Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen

The South African pillars of set piece strength and strong defence are still on display every week. But those foundations are increasingly layered with style and panache; plus adventure and joy from a cast of players liberated from claustrophobic gameplans and a fear of losing.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Contrasting nature of URC underlines its value in preparing players for Test rugby  

The Sharks are struggling with just one win in their tanked URC campaign, but even within the flotsam and jetsam of their season, there have been moments to savour.

Kurt-Lee Arendse of the Bulls during the URC Bulls vs Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on 2 March 2024 in Pretoria. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)

Coaches adjusting to demands

Coaches have adjusted to the demands this unique competition brings. And in another strand of change, more by osmosis than by instruction, the Boks’ adaptability at Test level, has filtered downwards. 

From their 35-7 mauling of the All Blacks on a warm London autumn evening, to mining a deep well of reserve to beat England 16-15 on a wet Parisian night, the Boks’ example has seeped into the provincial game.

Bulls coach Jake White is perhaps the biggest example of South Africa’s new way of approaching rugby. His Bulls play a wonderfully rounded

…. to be continued
Read full article at the Original Source
Copyright for syndicated content belongs to the linked Source : DailyMaverick –