Pretoria - It may have been a subtle change on Saturday night for the Springboks, but one of the thoughts after their last-gasp win against France is that sometimes, just sometimes, a blunt instrument is not always the best weapon in international rugby.
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The Boks went into the game, much like they did against England, with a monster pack. Their game was built on physical dominance up front, a hallmark of good Springbok sides and then some tactical nuance out wide.
But while the theory of all that is good and well, it was only late in the second half when they had made adjustments at the breakdown, and brought on a little finesse in terms of Elton Jantjies and Cheslin Kolbe, that things started to look like it would click for them.
What they found in the first half was a French side willing and able to match their dominance, beat them at the breakdown and disrupt the Springbok ball to such an extent that they found it hard to stay on the front foot.
And coupled with some awful box kicking from Faf de Klerk, and a basic decision not to use the backline at all, the French simply sat back and waited for the kicks, which were both too far and didn’t give their chasers a clear chance, to launch counter attacks at a sometimes brittle defence.
The lack of scrums didn’t help the Bok cause either, as they were robbed of a launchpad for their attacking structure, and the ball hardly ever moved past nine, stunting any form of attack that they may have wanted to launch.
But it was clear that this was the form of attack chosen by the Bok coaching staff, looking to pressure the French back three and use their defence to suffocate them, while the forwards would pummel it up.
And it didn’t work.
From some of the enterprising play we’ve seen from the Boks, clearly the conditions factored into their decision, but it was only when the likes of Jantjies and Kolbe came on, and Francois Louw, RG Snyman and Bongi Mbonambi up front, that things started to look like the Boks were getting properly over the gainline.
Jantjies has been much-criticised for his play over the season but the ability he has to put his runners over the gainline came to the fore on Saturday, even though the test could easily still have been lost by then.
And with Kolbe on the field, the Boks found a bit more confidence with Willie le Roux suddenly slotting into the backline on attack, something that rarely happened in the first half.
Snyman in particular was impressive for his ability to get over the gainline and keep the ball moving forward, and Mbonambi’s cool head with the lineouts at the end, as well as his determination to get over the line must get credit.
But this was a game where the tactics backfired, and a game plan revolving around De Klerk’s boot and a blunt instrument smashing the French up front never came off.
It should serve as a lesson to the Boks. They used a get-out-of-jail-free card on Saturday night, but when a game is about horses for courses, and a 10-man game is what you decide on, the personnel for the game should suit the plan.
The kicking game and the breakdown cost the Boks heavily on Saturday, and the lack of a fetcher was also apparent as France monstered the breakdown.
These are all things that Wales and Scotland will look to exploit in the next fortnight and all lessons the Boks need to learn.
Sometimes the blunt instrument won’t work, and the kicking game is not the right fit if not executed well enough.
A plan B is necessary and adjustments need to be made. Saturday proved the Bok bench could make those adjustments.
And it just, only just, saved them the embarrassment of defeat after being bullied by a French pack.
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