Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Over 80-minutes, I don’t feel the scoreline was an unfair reflection of the second Test between the Springboks and England in Johannesburg.
In the first half, the Springboks were completely dominant and the scoreline really flattered England at that point. The Boks had a magnificent first 40 minutes and played outstanding rugby. They however, fell away in the second stanza and allowed England back into the game.
In the first half, the Boks had a solid foundation owing to a strong setpiece. Their ball carriers got over the gain line, and got quick ruck ball, which enabled them to open England up. By generating momentum, the Boks earned the right to go wide.
The consequence of not generating momentum in the second half ensured the breakdown became a dogfight. The ball given to Francois Hougaard was difficult ball and any scrumhalf would struggle with that supply.
The Springboks gave away two tries through unforced errors, but in rugby, a helluva lot of points are scored through unforced errors. When you make mistakes at top level, you get punished.
Another factor, which contributed to the Boks’ downfall in the second stanza, was a number of changes both enforced and tactical. While the Springbok reserves are good players in their own right, the substitutions just didn’t work. Losing Juandre Kruger at lineout time was a big blow but was enforced.
However, the changes to the front row didn’t do the side any good. The Bok scrum disintegrated in the second stanza and the introduction of prop Alex Corbisiero made a big difference. The level of performance dropped off owing to our foundation being rocked.
When a team has developed rhythm, then as a coach you have to be very weary of making changes. It is tricky for any coach to get that timing spot on. We were going well at the time the changes were made, and then lost rhythm and momentum.
While some believed the Bok backline wouldn’t see much ball under the new regime, Heyneke Meyer is not the type of coach who won’t utilise his backline. He has set out his stall, where he gets his players to play the bulk of the game in the opposition territory. The team then generates momentum through big ball carriers and by doing that they narrow the oppositions’ defence and are able to go wide.
The collision is incredibly important in the modern game, because if you win the collision and have ball-in-hand you generate momentum, which makes it easier for your team to play as the other side is retreating. That is the key to it - particularly for the way the Boks play.
Wynand Olivier may be much maligned, but he is used to playing alongside Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn at the Bulls. While Frans Steyn will be missed at inside centre, Olivier is well capable of playing the physical game that Steyn offers.
I don’t feel the Olivier’s inclusion weakens the Bok backline. He is a strong, physical, direct defender who gets the ball over the gain line, and puts his side on the front foot. He is not what I would call a silky inside centre, who could also fill in at flyhalf, but he fits the pattern that Heyneke wants to play.
The current England side are certainly not world-beaters, but they are young group still in a building phase. They have come out of the opening two tests with their honour intact and I believe they will develop over time. When they host the World Cup in 2015, they will certainly be a highly competitive outfit.
I don’t see Saturday’s Test in Port Elizabeth as a dead-rubber. While it would have been nicer for spectators to have the series tied at one-all, both sides have plenty to play for. The Boks will aim to earn a series whitewash, while England will be dead keen to end their tour on a high. I don’t think this test is going to lack any fizz.
The vibe in PE is excellent this week. The fans generate fantastic atmosphere in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and are delighted to have top-flight rugby back in the city having been starved of it for many years.
The Boks had a very good second forty in Durban and a very good first forty in Joburg, what they now need to do is put together an 80-minute performance. In order to achieve this, the Boks have to keep their foot on the pedal throughout the game. I think they will this week.
It’s a question of not losing focus, and I think that if the side builds rhythm, the coaches have to let that side keep going. For example if Bismarck du Plessis is going like a train - leave him on. I believe Heyneke will be keen to ensure the rhythm of the team is not broken this week.
When the Springboks gel, they have shown they can be pretty potent. I’m backing the Boks to win by 15 points.
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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