Entering the business end
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
If one looks at the series against England in totality, the Springboks had a very good back 40 minutes in the first Test, an outstanding first 40 in the second Test, and were poor in the third Test. Other than the series win, I don’t think the Boks achieved what they wanted to.
England will return home with a lot of confidence and positive points to draw from. Despite losing the series, they didn’t get hammered in any of the games and were unlucky not to come away with a win in Port Elizabeth. They are however, not one of the top rugby nations at present and are in a developmental phase.
The Springboks have now set out their stall for the way they want to play the game, which is playing very direct, confrontational rugby. Their game is momentum-based, so they need to generate momentum through big ball carriers. Territory is also critically important.
If the Boks are intent on playing this way - as there doesn’t appear to be an alternative gameplan from them - their kick execution has to be spot on. Their chase lines have to be effective, good contesting of the ball in the air is crucial, as is a solid defence. And on attack, the Boks have to ensure they get over the gainline.
The Boks struggled particularly in the third Test as they were unable to generate momentum - and the breakdown became a dogfight. From a South African perspective - as Heyneke has expressed - we are disappointed because of the 240 minutes played only 80 minutes went well, and of those 80 minutes, there was only 40 minutes of really great rugby.
Morne Steyn didn’t have a particularly good game in PE, but he is normally an exceptionally accurate kicker. He didn’t kick well and consequently didn’t have a good game - as his kicking is what defines him.
I think Steyn is a mature, strong personality and will be able to manage the criticism levelled against him. I think if anything it will steel him with more resolve. I expect him to have a good game this weekend.
The June internationals showcased that New Zealand may well be able to match South Africa up front and if they do and the Boks are unable to generate momentum, they will experience some difficulties in the upcoming Rugby Championship. New Zealand are certainly more creative on attack.
Take for example, Sonny Bill Williams's second try against Ireland from the Aaron Cruden flip. It’s the kind of thing we haven’t really seen from South Africa. Momentum is a factor for all teams, but the New Zealand sides are not totally reliant on it like the South African sides are in terms of their game strategy.
New Zealand players' skill levels are very good and sometimes South African sides rely a little too heavily on physicality. I believe that there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of our skill development. While the Australians lack the physical ability to match the South African sides like the New Zealanders do, their skill level is higher.
It’s an unusual scenario returning to Super Rugby after an international Test series, but it has offered a change and may freshen up the players. The argument that the Stormers players may well be fresher, having had fewer players involved with the Boks, can be made, but I believe that their high injury count evens things out.
Although the Lions have had a host of difficulties in recent times, they will come out with a lot of determination. It’s difficult to say what impact John Mitchell’s suspension will have unless you are part of the camp, but the players will be determined to show what they are capable of.
While the Lions will give a good account of themselves, the Stormers are at home, and I think with nine changes, Allister Coetzee has taken a calculated risk, which is merited.
The Stormers are performance-focused rather than outcomes-based, which most teams are these days. I think the approach Coetzee has adopted is the correct one. If they play to their potential, they should win all three of their remaining group games, and Saturday's match offers an opportunity to garner that elusive four-try bonus point.
The Stormers are in pole position to end on top of the South African Conference and thus the Bulls simply cannot afford to lose to the Cheetahs this Saturday.
The Cheetahs have improved this season and have done a lot better than in seasons past - so they must certainly take credit for that.
Bulls-Cheetahs derbies are always tough affairs, but the Bulls should prevail at Loftus. While I’m backing the Bulls and Stormers to win their games, I don’t think they will win by more than 10-point margins. Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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