Tank Lanning

Can these Boks get better?

2009-08-30 19:01
Tank Lanning

Tank Lanning

The Boks play a boring kicking game? Pull the other one people, it’s got bells on it! I must say, with all the comments about the so called “boring, one dimensional” game doing the rounds prior to the game, I thought the Boks might deviate from what has worked so well for them thus far, at their own peril.

And while the Boks did in fact spin the ball a whole lot more than they have in recent times, it was certainly not at their peril. Au contraire, in fact, the Boks produced 60 minutes of quite scintillating rugby. To score one try from a set piece is impressive, but to do it twice requires the precision of a brain surgeon. And for this, massive credit must go to Peter de Villiers, because both moves would have been practiced time and again on the training ground.

Fourie Du Preez took the official man of the match, but it could have gone to any number of players. Juan Smith was back to his very best, and together with Spies (now a turnover machine himself!) and Brussow, completed what surely has to be regarded as the best loose trio in world rugby.

Ruan Pienaar did nothing extraordinary, but then he did not do too much wrong either. I like the fact that he is a calming influence at the back, and that gave both Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen confidence to strut their stuff. Habana was at his mercurial best, confidence seemingly oozing from his every pore. That cross cover tackle of his was as good as anything he did to score his two tries …

I did, however, walk away from the game with a strange feeling – crazily thinking that not all the questions had been answered. The Bok lineout was not as impregnable as it has been in the past, with Bismarck du Plessis missing Victor Matfield twice in the game. I am pretty sure that was a one-off “off” day for the pairing, though …

Of more and real concern is the Bok scrum. It almost held it’s own with Bakkies Botha packing down behind John Smit, the Boks normally only folding once the ball had been removed from the base of the scrum. But in the last 20 minutes, when Botha had been subbed for Andries Bekker, and when the diesel in John Smit’s tank was hitting the red zone, things unravelled quite spectacularly. In fact the Bok captain suffered a “Phil Vickery” and got his wings in one scrum – not something any tighthead wants sewn to his jersey – EVER!

If anyone has doubts regarding the importance of a good scrummaging lock to a solid scrum, then please watch the last 20 minutes this game again. Or feel free to watch the Western Province scrum prior to the arrival of Chris Jack and Anton van Zyl. When Botha was behind Smit, the Bok scrum looked OK. The WP pack is now regarded as dominant come scrum time, yet it is the same front row the Stormers finished this year’s Super14 with, and we all know how that went …

The key of course, is a set of locks that can do the donkey work as well as win ball in the air. When Smit was initially making the move to tighthead, Botha said to him, somewhat in jest: “You just keep your back straight, and I will do the rest”! Well, the big man should jest not! Known as a powerful scrummager, Saturday showed the importance of Botha to the Bok scrum.

So what can the Bok brains trust do? Well, it seems pretty damn ridiculous to have a prop of the capability of Jannie du Plessis on the bench and not use him. De Villiers is obviously still smarting from the drama that unfolded when he took Smit from the field in the first Test against the Lions, but he still really does not use the bench well at all. And given Smit’s importance to the Bok cause, he actually cannot afford to play the skipper into the ground with regular 80 minute stints. Only Bekker and Schalk Burger got meaningful time on the turf on Saturday, when the situation was crying out for Smit to be replaced by Du Plessis.

Another tweak, of course, would be to have a more powerful replacement lock on the bench. As said prior to the test, not having Danie Rossouw in the 22 really did upset the balance of the side. He is the ideal lock/flank to have on the bench. But with Bekker now back in SA having picked up an injury, the selectors are going to be forced into making some change in any case.

It was a simply awesome Bok win, but given the leaked consolation tries in the final quarter, still seemingly not an all answering win in a strange way. The missing piece in this Bok jigsaw puzzle? Using the bench effectively. 

Tank is a former WP prop, now editor of Sport24 and author of the Front Row Grunt

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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