Disastrous, humiliating, embarrassing – we’ve heard it all the past few hours and days after the beating the All Blacks put on the Springboks in Albany on Saturday.
The Springbok was hunted, slaughtered and roasted over the open fire with big Pacific Islanders sitting around the fire beating their drums and singing Haka-like war chants.
We always said the real test of the 2017 vintage of the Green and Gold would be judged on their encounter against the world’s leading team and the grapes turned sour on the day for Allister Coetzee’s chargers.
In the lead up a few passionate supporters were even giving the Saffas a chance to win but after the final whistle the optimism had turned to ridicule. The Monday morning water cooler chat in South Africa will not be of how the boys ran the Kiwi’s close or manfully put up a fight and how certain players are still destined for big things in their Bok future. Instead every one and their dog have already starting turning on the Boks. Cue the Facebook videos, Twitter taunts and flood of Bok bashing memes. Some are blaming the coach, others the quota system and another group SA Rugby for not bringing back more of the turncoats and fortune hunters from abroad. One fears for what might happen in Cape Town in a few weeks’ time as there might just be a few more South African Kiwis in the Cape by that time.
With all the ridicule, heartache and anger in the air what remain is for us to try and establish how things come so badly unstuck in New Zealand that they shipped a half a ton without being able to bother the scorers themselves. Having done the unthinkable and tortured myself into watching the game a second time I reckon I have come to the conclusion of what exactly the men in green and gold did wrong – very little!
Yes you heard me right. Despite one of the most humiliating scorelines in Springbok history it is my firm opinion that the Boks didn’t even have a bad day at the office or just not pitch up for the fight. Their tactics were not far off and, especially in the opening forty minutes, they were giving as well as they got.
As feared a few weeks ago the Springboks were weighed and found under-seize, that much is true. The Sunday newspapers were harsh in their criticism and performance rankings of 2 and 3 out of ten was dished out with as much venom as a +4 Uno card. I myself was firmly of the belief that the 2017 Springbok team was yet to be tested and it was only the make-up of the Kiwi side which had me clutching at the thinnest of straws that the men from the Republic might be able to keep the scoreboard tidy. Despite all this when one wants to apportion blame and sling criticism you also need to come up with alternatives. Andries Coetzee might not light up the game from the back but who is a better option at the moment, or Malcolm Marx might have had a shocker with his lineout throwing but he is still one of the best hookers in world rugby at present.
At the forty minute mark the visitors had enjoyed a 70% to 30% advantage in terms of territory. For the most part the South Africans were able to get good go-forward ball going as the big ball carriers got them across the advantage line. Elton Janjties, UzairCassiem, Andries Coetzee and Jesse Kriel all found themselves breaking through a tackle and bursting clear into the Kiwi 22 but were just unable to find a man in support to capitalise.
In contrast the All Black didn’t set up a single phase inside the Springbok 22 meter area in the opening half hour and the centre combination of Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams hadn’t even touched the ball at this stage. Bizarrely, by the time referee Nigel Owens blew the whistle for the half time break the visitors somehow found themselves having conceded four tries.
It was not a rampant, all dominating show from the men in black. Instead the first try had come after a South African handling error led to a penalty near the halfway line. Aaron Smith didn’t delay for a second and after the quick tap his kick through found the impressive Rieko Ioane in the clear. The second score was from an intercept pass thrown by Jean-luc Du Preez in midfield and the fourth Kiwi try again saw the Springboks have ball in hand one moment and the nextEbenEtzebeth was pleadingly speaking to his chargers under his own poles as an aimless Elton Janjties return kick was countered from long range.
Say what you will 31-0 down the visiting South Africans had not been dominated and beaten from pillar to post in the first half. Lets make one thing clear right now the Al Blacks are not the best team in the world because of the offloading skill of SBW, the lightning pace of Barrett or the fact that Damian McKenzie has smoother footwork than Michael Jackson. They are also not playing an out-of-this-world game plan which no one can fathom. Instead what makes the Hansen-led Kiwis great is their attention to detail and ability to do the basics of the game twice as well as anyone else in world rugby at present.
The Springboks always needed to dominate the physical exchanges and the set pieces to apply the necessary pressure on the home side and in so doing stop the dangerous backs from being unleashed. As the match wore on this ability waned somewhat. One wanted to see a touch more in-your-face aggression from the likes of Mostert and Etzebeth. The total collapse of the lineout was a killer blow for the Boks and in the end they made more errors in the execution of their gameplan than their hosts did.
The damage was already done by the break but it also didn’t help that the Boks didn’t really have an impact bench to go to. Surely one has to call a spade a spade and realise that Bongi Mbonambi is not currently good enough (even the couch knows this as the poor lad constantly only gets afforded a few minutes on the pitch). Trevor Nyakane couldn’t cope in the scrum and De Allende shouldn’t be there in the first place. Scrumhalf is a specialised position and your ability to side step is far behind being able to do the basics of getting a fast pass away; Francois Hougaard has now played 45 tests and hopefully he will never play another one starting in the number 9 jersey as he has time and again proven that he is not a specialist behind the pack.
I am an eternal cynic and yes there is no hiding from a fifty point hiding but now is not the time to throw everyone overboard. Yes the big problem remains that the Boks need to keep working on establishing a true identity in terms of how they want to play and then bring in a few players who will better serve this cause. Surely everyone can now see that RuanCombrinck needs to be involved and soon enough SibusisoNkosi will be joining him on the other wing. People were harsh on Andries Coetzee but the poor guy did little wrong on the day and we hardly have many other options at present. Elton Jantjies hasn’t really impressed this critic just yet but I actually felt he didn’t have a bad game as he attacked the line well and put in deft little grubber which should have worked out better. He also put his body on the line on defence – coping better than Pollard in this aspect.
Yes it is a bitter pill to swallow but surely the talent in the Springbok set-up at present should sooth the pain a bit. Getting hammered in New Zealand is a far cry from losing to Japan and also going from the one poor performance after the other on last season’s end of year tour. Let’s hope the decision makers do not get desperate now and go the route of taking a step back by anting to bring back men like Habana and JP Pietersen. Some progress has indeed been made and hopefully the men in green and gold show this in the manner in which they rebound to beat the Wallabies and then give a good account of themselves in the dreaded re-match at Newlands.
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Hein Diemont is the resident “Couch Critic” in the Goodforthegame Forum and he shares his weekly Super Rugby Blog the “Post Match Scuffle” or “PMS” with us.
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