Room for improvement
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Owing to the dreadful conditions at Twickenham on Saturday, to be fair it was never going to be a scintillating game of rugby.
The Bok though defended incredibly well and as Jean de Villiers noted they had the bounce of the ball on the day. And in truth they also made their own luck.
It was an extremely fortunate set of events that led to Willem Alberts's try, but in my own view it was a legitimate five-pointer. That dot-down proved critical to the outcome.
There is no doubt Chris Robshaw made a mistake going for poles with three minutes to go. He really should have gone for the corner because there clearly wasn’t enough time. And earlier on in the game Owen Farrell went for the corner when he should have gone for goal. Poor decisions aside, the positive that came from the Test for England is that Farrell is their better bet at flyhalf. The youngster has a better all-round game than Toby Flood and I think starting with the latter was an error.
The Springboks have returned from their northern hemisphere sojourn with three wins from three. I have no doubt Heyneke will be happy with that return. In total, the Boks played 12 Tests in 2012 and won 7, lost 3 and drew 2. I think that is a pretty good set of results and they proved they are a side with plenty of grit and determination.
There is no question the Boks would have developed as a unit this year, but the next step for the Boks is how the evolve their attacking game. It’s clear we need to find a balance between our attack and defence. I believe some of that will boil down to selections.
Heyneke set out his stall early on and made it clear it’s all about winning Test matches. He has taken a conservative line in order to do that. That’s the policy he’s adopted and he’s right in the sense that at Test level there’s plenty of pressure on the Bok coach to win matches. However, if the Boks aim to advance and move into the No 1 spot in world rugby; they are going to have to advance their attacking game.
In order to attain this objective, the side have to take calculated risks, and in so doing get the backline playing a more attacking brand of rugby much like we have seen from the All Blacks.
We have skilful enough players in this country to do so. What is most crucial is a multi-dimensional approach as opposed to a one-dimensional approach.
There are a number of Springbok players who have stood out this season. Jannie du Plessis has done amazingly having played 34 games in a row, which is quite incredible. Adriaan Strauss did an excellent job in filling the big boots of Bismarck du Plessis. While Eben Etzebeth has proved to be an outstanding player and continues to grow each game.
However, in my opinion the Boks loose trio were the most prominent feature of the tour. They have developed into a stellar, well balanced unit. Owing to the way we play, our forwards have really come to the fore. Having a fetcher in your side is also absolutely critical, and Francois Louw’s performances attest to that.
Fundamentally the Bok setpiece was strong on tour. On the weekend, I don’t think it was a poor scrumming performance from the Boks. It was more a case of Alex Corbisiero not scrumming straight and the way it was interpreted by the referee made that facet difficult for the Boks.
The scrum is no doubt a difficult area to officiate. The IRB have tried with the different calling cadence to see if it will solve some of the issues at scrum-time, but to be honest it doesn’t seem to have made a difference. But it will be very interesting to hear the feedback from current front rowers and scrum coaches’ plying their trade.
An innovation I have been impressed with is the 23-man match day side. It is a very good thing as it stops the nonsense of uncontested scrums. It has been used very effectively in the Top 14 in France and in the Aviva Premiership in England.
Looking to 2013, I feel the Boks will continue to develop as a side. When they reassemble next year they would have been together for a year and the coaching and playing staff will be more accustomed to each other. Hopefully, next season we will see the side progress even further.
Turning to the weekend’s fixtures, England host the All Blacks at Twickenham. While England were able to push the Boks close owing to matching up physically, I don’t see them challenging their visitors this Saturday.
At present, the All Blacks are a step ahead of everybody else and with the style of play and intensity that they bring, fundamentally one finds that the home nations can’t live with them. I think they will win by 15 points. They just have far too much firepower. England, in the infancy of their growth, are certainly not a great side at this point.
In the other notable clash, Wales entertain Australia. I fancy the Wallabies to come home as Wales have lost their way somewhat. Since the 2011 World Cup, Wales seem to have lost confidence. Injuries and Warren Gatland’s absence early on has pockmarked their season.
Australia themselves have had a very up and down end-of-year tour. They were very lucky to beat Italy on the weekend. Wales are struggling at the moment, so on the balance of play I see the Wallabies winning the game. However, I think there will be no more than 5-10 points in it.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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