Rob Houwing

Boks prove life after Matfield

2012-11-26 07:09
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town - The retirement last year of Victor Matfield, one of the world’s best lineout specialists of all time, was expected to leave a void in that department that would not too easily be filled by South Africa.

But the Springboks of 2012 have instead only blossomed more and more in that crucial set-piece, arguably even to the point that they are as effective now as they were at any stage of the lengthy Matfield era.

Their polish in that area was a key factor in ensuring an unbeaten three-Test tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom, where every game was pretty closely contested - and none more so than the dramatic closing match at rain-lashed Twickenham on Saturday.

Video highlights: England v South Africa

Clearly tired and outgunned as a consequence in some other forward areas of the nail-biting match, the Bok lineout made a decisive difference, both through the ongoing comfort of securing possession on their own throw-in and in claiming several precious England steals as well.

Their mastery of the skies did not go unnoticed in the English press, with several papers making reference to the vital advantage.

Praising South Africa for being the “smarter side” in the testing conditions, The Observer’s Andy Bull added: “England made 16 handling mistakes, more than three times as many as the opposition, and lost three lineouts in the first half alone.

“They were entirely outmanoeuvred by a South African unit that has not lost a single throw in three Tests on this tour.”

Hugh Godwin of the Sunday Independent said: “The home lineout, that had been faultless before this autumn, failed under the adroit assault of Eben Etzebeth and Juandré Kruger.

“The remarkable Etzebeth ... still has no idea what it is to lose to England.”

The Guardian’s Michael Butler also picked up on the lineout strength and general fire of Etzebeth: “The 21-year-old showed why he is such an exciting prospect ... great athleticism at the lineout and didn’t tire until the end.”

It will be a pleasing thought to many South Africans that the freakishly tall Andries Bekker ought to be back next season to challenge for a Bok berth, whilst another currently rehabbing Test stalwart, Pierre Spies, is also a quality lineout man - although he will have a real battle on his hands to dislodge incumbent No 8 Duane Vermeulen, the player-of-the-match at Twickenham.

The role of hooker Adriaan Strauss cannot be discounted: the unfailing accuracy of his throwing, even in sometimes swirling winds and squalls, was as important in ensuring the high calibre of Bok lineout play on tour.

It is just one reason why he might make it difficult for coach Heyneke Meyer to sideline him once the known world-class Bismarck du Plessis, whose greatest No 2 strengths perhaps lie in other areas of play, recovers from his serious knee injury in 2013.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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