I HAVE probably seen tenser rugby matches in my life than the one between the Springboks and France last Sunday, but I can't remember one.
The best weekend of Test rugby yet?
Very possible. Although the gap in quality between the best and the rest was evident, all four matches were competitive. Only Wales would have had to score points twice at the end to lead, and even they had comfortably led earlier.
The much-vaunted rise of the northern hemisphere was the mouse that roared, but the gap has noticeably narrowed since 2019.
Liverpool's manager, Jürgen Klopp, likes to brag about his team's “mentality monsters", and Jacques Nienaber's squad has one of those too.
I realised just before halftime on Sunday night: the Springboks are occasionally being outplayed, France clearly taking the lead. Eben Etzebeth has just seen a yellow card, and I'm not even slightly panicking about the Springboks yet. Because the Springboks themselves aren't panicking. Not even slightly.
And when the French scored only two penalty goals in Etzebeth's absence, one of which was for his infringement, that's when I started to believe genuinely, and not just to boost my own morale.
Everyone knows what happened next: Etzebeth got a 25-minute breather, including halftime, and played the last little bit more than half an hour as well as, or perhaps even slightly better than, before.
The redesigned Bomb Squad with its three loose forwards came onto the field at the same time, and France's bench didn't offer anywhere near the same quality of players as Ox Nche and Kwagga Smith.
When I watched the game again afterwards, I nearly got nervous all over again. The only weapons the Springboks really had against this formidable French team were lineouts and scrums, and the French conceded so few scrums that the Springboks invited them for one out of desperation after a clean catch by Damian Willemse.
And immediately won a penalty from it.
The confidence and trust in each other and their organisation was evident in this team, as seen in Etzebeth's try from a quick tap when the game was still on a knife edge.
In the last 10 minutes, you could see how a team's courage is tested, but it was France's, and under sudden pressure from the scoreboard the home team made a few ill-advised decisions.
If roosters had the same size balls as bokkies, they would have kicked for the corner in the 71st minute instead of going for goal.
Our team may not have been stronger but they were certainly smarter.
Yes, they were also unlucky in a few respects, but by golly — France stole the 2023 World Cup from us and karma's just deserts gave the Springboks a chance to spoil their victory.
Speaking of Etzebeth, isn't it high time someone tells Matthew Pearce that you don't say -th at the end? That commentator is rather grating. If you can say Retshegofaditswe, Etzebeth is quite easy.
Perhaps Eben is nowadays EtzebeTH with a lisp. I used to be Deviljee myself, but you get so tired of explaining that you eventually just shrug your shoulders and accept Dewilleers as your fate. Both versions are wrong anyway, which is my meagre comfort.
But sometimes you end up with such a triumphant feeling:
England tomorrow night?
Well, if it depended on the hubris of our supporters, the Springboks would be in trouble. But while we're already sitting comfortably beforehand, boasting and counting our chickens before they're hatched, the Rassie Erasmus machine is focused, and that England team has long been meticulously analysed by the Springbok brains trust.
Although England have served up mediocre rugby in this tournament so far, they're the only undefeated team in the semifinals, and many of their players have World Cup experience.
Confession: I bet R50 at 12-1 on the Poms before the tournament because of that ridiculous draw. I reasoned that if they somehow win the cup, a friend and I could at least drown our sorrows with two nice meals and a drinkable bottle of wine at the steakhouse on Main Road.
However, I have peace in my heart that this R50 is now destined for some professional gambler's Christmas stocking.
Loose forwards like the veteran Courtney Lawes and the newcomer Ben Earl are of world-class quality, and Maro Itoje is starting to play the type of rugby that initially made him famous.
But would I want any of them in the Springbok squad? No way.
We all have our preferences. I, for one, have to confess that I've been critical of Jesse Kriel until now, and there are just as many sinners who've done the same with Damian de Allende.
But these two centres, with the rapier-like skills of Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse on the sides, have proved their worth in Paris once and for all. The much-celebrated French centre pair of Danty and Fickou were virtually torn apart.
Okay, maybe there's one I'd make room for in the Springbok group. We already have four good scrum halves, but there must always be a place for Antoine Dupont.
The New Zealand journalist, Dougie Golightly, a former drinking buddy, earned the suspicion of the All Blacks about 20 years ago by referring to the flanker Reuben Thorne as “New Zealand's non-playing captain".
In 2003, Dougie checked into the Travelodge in Dunedin, where the All Blacks were staying for a Test match against the Springboks.
Thorne was in the foyer and asked, “Douglas Golightly, what are you doing here?"
And Dougie didn't miss a beat: “That's not the right question, mate. The right question is: what the fuck are YOU doing here?"
I wanted to tell this story at the expense of Sam Cane. That's until he shut me up in the All Blacks' Test against Ireland. Cane was brilliant, making 21 tackles and stealing two balls on the ground, among other achievements.
The All Blacks started the match with about 30 phases and Ireland stacked up 37 phases by the end of it. The Springboks and Les Bleus were much quicker to move the ball wide or kick it.
The Pumas will probably be sneaky tonight, but it's unlikely there will be enough venom to overcome New Zealand.
Ways to kick off the weekend? Always.
After this weekend, I hope there's no more reason to play English music for you.
The English do hard rock much better than rugby. Marc Bolan, for example:
Ozzy Osbourne and Co predict how England will feel the day after tomorrow morning:
And Johnny Rotten and his cronies do the same:
♦ VWB ♦
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