Cape Town – The Springboks still struggling with the
ignition, while their opponents accelerate across the intersection.
To use a traffic-related analogy, that is a strange problem
the national side seem to have experienced quite regularly so far in the 2018
Head coach Rassie Erasmus’s win record from six outings in
charge now stands at an unremarkable 50 percent - and the Boks often falling
behind early in matches has probably been a notable impediment to a better
status than that.
They have lagged on the scoreboard at halftime in each of
their last three Tests – Argentina in both Durban and Mendoza, England in Cape
Town – which goes some way to explaining why only the Kings Park game, of that
trio, led to a Bok victory.
South Africa have trailed at the break in four of their six
matches in total, and bear in mind that even in one instance where they did hold
the upper hand on the scoreboard at the break (the breathless first Test
against the English in Johannesburg) they had had to come from 3-24 down to
grab a 29-27 advantage entering the “shed”.
So there is a definite pattern of the Boks being dangerously
slow starters, something Michael Cheika and the rest of the Australian brains
trust will no doubt have made a mental note of ahead of the Rugby Championship
clash at Brisbane on Saturday week.
It is a game Erasmus has already branded a “win at all costs”
one for his charges bearing in mind the slightly unexpected setback in Mendoza.
The Boks have scored only 65 of their 148 points across the
six Tests so far in the first half, meaning 43 percent, and eight of their 19
tries (42 percent).
Only in one Test, that game in the “Big Smoke” against
England, have South Africa scored more tries in the first period than second.
But now for the plus side, if you want to take an upbeat view
of their short- to medium-term prospects as Erasmus continues to bed down
gradually to his difficult job: the Boks have effectively won the second half,
points-wise, in as many as five of those six Tests.
That was even the case in Mendoza, where they trailed by a
nasty margin of 27-7 at the interval and then leaked another try (32-7) in the
Things appeared set for a particularly embarrassing final
outcome at that juncture, but instead the Boks did claw back gutsily to
eventually edge the second-half scoring rights 12-5 in a 32-19 reverse.
The only exception to Bok second-half points dominance was
the dead-rubber third Test against England in filthy weather at Newlands in
late June, where they trailed 6-3 at halftime and were comfortably beaten 25-10
Trying to explain the Bok tendency toward sluggishness early
on in matches is hard to do. You might not get a suitable answer out of Erasmus
or his lieutenants, either: they hardly “coach” their charges to leak points
quickly, you can be fairly sure.
But a couple of positive observations can arguably be made
around the regular habit of Siya Kolisi and company of bossing second halves.
One is that it seems a decent indicator that, despite the
inevitable variety of teething difficulties under a new coach, an agreeable
amount of “gees” clearly runs through the ranks.
You can’t, as they say, buy that in a can at the corner
Another is that Springbok conditioning cannot be the worst
thing in the world, even if Erasmus may have intentions for still loftier
levels yet on that front …
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