Johannesburg - While there was more than just a sense of relief that the Springboks came back from the dead to beat Wales last week, it certainly hasn’t put a negative spin over the national team in their preparations ahead of Saturday’s final Incoming Tours game against Scotland in Port Elizabeth.
According to the supersport.com website, in fact, it seems the Boks have taken the lesson they received from the Welsh on the chin and are treating it as if it was a blip, vowing to rectify the mistakes, but also to rather concentrate on the positives ahead of the Scottish test.
While some may raise an eyebrow to this, the Bok management have always seen the progression of the team as a process and while there will be a large amount of soul-searching in the team, this will also not be something that preoccupies them for too long.
The team’s analysis has found that while the tackle completion rate was high, at more than 90 percent in the Welsh test, the bigger concern was the fact that in the opening half the Boks lost the collision battle, with Wales allowed to gain momentum and get on the front foot by constantly breaching the advantage line.
But after the Boks fell behind their defence became a lot better, according to defence coach John McFarland, who praised the last 50 minutes of the game and the effort put in by the players.
In essence while the Boks struggled with the Welsh intensity and the Steve Walsh show, they were disappointed with their own performance and have vowed to learn the lessons from the game, and exactly what can happen if you’re not switched on from the word go.
McFarland was at pains to stress that the opening half’s lapses were more of a blip than a concern, and that the team had already taken steps to rectify matters.
“I think we’ve been good for our last six tests, and in those tests we’ve only conceded six tries. Obviously Saturday was not ideal, but Welsh coach Warren Gatland did admit to Heyneke that in the first test we caught them with our intensity,” McFarland said.
“They were far more intent and had a lot more sting in their collisions on the weekend and we struggled for that middle few minutes to cope with it in the first half. If you look at the last 50 minutes, when we were down to 14, I thought it was a heroic defensive performance.
“The true colours came through in the last 50 minutes.”
While it may be easy to dismiss this, when the Boks were down to 14 men after Flip van der Merwe was off the field, they didn’t concede tries and at least one of the Welsh tries was debatable to say the least.
In that time, the Bok attack was possibly the biggest culprit as they found themselves in good positions, but failed to capitalise on several opportunities against a stern Welsh defence.
“It is always the aim to stop them, but they just caught us in the opening half. To me though, the way the guys bounced back in the last 50 minutes, it was great character. Our workrate was high. If you look at the last passage of play, we made around 30 tackles in the space of two minutes and got a lot of pressure on the drop goal. That showed great intent to win the game.
“The guys are excited that we are able to win a match in so many ways at the moment.”
Despite praising the defensive performance, McFarland was adamant that the Boks aren’t satisfied.
“We’re still looking at the performance and execution at what we want to do in terms of our game plan. When they scored two tries before halftime, and it showed when we scored the two tries with the yellow card – to score the long range try where we went the whole length of the field was really great,” McFarland said.
“They were just more intent and more dominant in those first 20 minutes, and then we got up the last 50. It is a measure of a team that they can come back under that sort of pressure and strain and play good rugby. At the end of the day we came through and won the game in the 78th minute.
“For us the guys are excited they came back to win the game. There is obviously great relief in the team that we could do it, and in the way we did. We were 13 points down in the 70th minute and we scored the two tries in the way we did. The turning point was the scrum when we drove them back and stole the ball in the tackle and ended up in their half.”
Bok fans will want to have less of the heroic comebacks, and more of the focused intent that has characterized the side under Meyer’s reign.
But while McFarland has put on a positive face for the public, behind the scenes the wake-up call will have been heard, and how the Boks react to the way Wales exposed them will be the determining factor.