Johannesburg - The Springboks will need to back a lot more depth and experience if they are to make a success of the last two Rugby Championship matches in the country and bring themselves back from the brink following Saturday’s catastrophe in Albany.
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What was apparent from the game where the All Blacks hit what coach Allister Coetzee called “the perfect storm” was the apparent lack of fight, lack of composure in the depths of despair and poor decision-making during the game that played right into the All Blacks’ hands.
It is common knowledge that any test match in New Zealand requires a visiting team to play at the top of their game, as they start with a clear disadvantage in terms of aura, history and a partisan crowd that only sees black.
But after six good test matches – five wins and a draw – the Springboks showed their naivety, flinched when they needed to hold firm and then fell apart as their world disintegrated around them on the field.
Come the next two games – in particular in Cape Town in three weeks’ time – the Boks will need to find their centre of gravity quickly to ensure this does not become a repeat performance and another soul-killing kick in the gut for their supporters.
When the Boks lost the likes of Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronje, they not only lost two of their senior players in the team, they lost their composure. Both played an integral role in the Lions’ performances this season and both are confidence players who inspire those around them.
In trying to analyse where it all went wrong, the Boks have a good case in saying the first 20 minutes were their good ones. They made inroads into the All Black half, they won penalties against a great defence and forced referee Nigel Owens to keep the All Blacks honest at the breakdown.
But then, the two moment that killed them – the quick-thinking tap and kick by Aaron Smith for Rieko Ioane to score and Jean-Luc du Preez’ intercept pass killed the Boks momentum and placed them firmly on the back foot. 3-0 became 17-0 in minutes and they never seemed to have the composure to recover.
That may seem surprising to some, but it shows a team that has been talking itself up all season in terms of positivity, in taking the moments that matter, that they forgot to remember to dig themselves out of a hole.
The two tries in quick succession underlined the ruthlessness of playing the All Blacks on New Zealand soil. In contrast the Boks fluffed their only kick at goal – Elton Jantjies hitting the post – and butchered three or four promising opportunities on attack. The difference couldn’t be more start.
The worrying thing for the Boks was the lack of composure from 17-0 onwards. It seemed as if the team had simply had the wind knocked out of them. Teams brimming with confidence and experience would find a way back, or at least a way back into the game, but the nakedness of the Boks inexperience was laid bare for all to see.
Looking back at the footage, Eben Etzebeth stood alone alongside wide-eyed faces as he tried to lead his team. As Nick Mallett pointed out afterwards, most teams have 5 or more gamebreakers, the All Blacks have 10. A good question to ask is how many senior players the Boks had on the field at any given time to recover from this?
Allister Coetzee was adamant on Sunday night on his return that the Boks are on the right path. Five tests, a draw and a loss doesn’t make for bad reading given the All Blacks history in New Zealand
But it was the manner of the loss, the hung heads and the scoreline that ballooned. It was Handre Pollard being knocked on his backside and 33 missed tackles that told the story of a night that South Africa would rather forget.
One loss doesn’t kill a season, but it certainly gives the Boks a lot of food for thought.
“No definitely not. You aren’t defined by one loss, The All Blacks showed against the British and Irish Lions that one loss didn’t make them a bad team,” Coetzee said on arrival
“We are tested in terms of our depth, when we lost players like Coenie Oosthuizen and Jaco Kriel and we have a new group of players that we have brought together. The guys who came in must swim, they need to take the team forward.
“I still believe our progress is there – one test loss this year our of seven, and we brought back two points from Australia. In the past we never did that. That explains the story for me.”
The moment the Bok setpiece fell apart is the moment they lost the game. Malcolm Marx is an exceptional player, but last year on debut in Christchurch he also missed his jumpers. This time it was fatal.
The Bok scrum that tamed Argentina leaked penalties and without a setpiece that could give a platform, the Boks were never going to be in a position to launch a comeback.
There are a lot of lessons that can be learnt from this. Three weeks to the All Black game is not a lot of time, and motivation should never be a factor.
Cooler heads are required by Allister Coetzee and co, and leadership to back up Etzebeth on the field is a must.
But nothing else matters if the setpiece doesn’t work. Without it the Bok strengths are nullified. Without them they don’t have a chance.
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