September 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
I will remember this Saturday morning for a long time, sadly for all the reasons I wouldn’t want to. To beat the All Blacks in New Zealand is a rare feat for any team, but the Springboks will rue this game that got away in particular. The All Blacks were not their invincible selves today, granted King Carter had vacated his throne for the day, Sonny-Bill was likely sampling some sushi and the mongrel Mealamu was taking some time out on the bench, but the Springboks failed to take advantage of this opportunity. Awry lineouts, erratic scrumming and woeful kicking aside the Boks still had the All Blacks under pressure for large parts of the game. They smashed them at the advantage line, hit rucks with far more conviction and generally laid a platform for their backs to bury the Blacks. Alas it never happened. In between butchering a couple of great scoring opportunities out wide, missing some easy penalty kicks and generally providing the All Blacks with a constant supply of ball from errant kicks the Boks simply failed to convert their advantage.
The scrums were a great contest and though neither team gained outright ascendency, the Boks edged the contest with some powerful shoves. There were some unnecesarry problems with the engagement that need to be addressed though and with a little attention the Bok pack is definitely good enough. The less said about the lineouts probably the better, poor throwing and what seemed like communication problems saw the Boks lose a number of lineouts. It may be fair to state that the tight 5 was a new unit, but at the top level there is no room for basic errors. Despite this the Bok pack stumbling at times in set pieces, they were much more direct in open play. Some good work at the breakdown made life difficult for the All Blacks who simply could not generate momentum for most of the match. The loose-forwards really put their hands up and with Alberts looking less like a lone crusader the Boks took the fight to McCaw and Co. Francois Louw certainly made his presence felt and Duane Vermeulen got stuck in. Meyer must be a worried man though when he surveys his tight five options, Dean Greyling is out of his depth and will no doubt get a suspension for his outright stupidity. The Beast worked tirelessly as ever and though Strauss struggled with his set-pieces, he was good in the loose. Jannie du Plessis was once again steady and that he carries so much responsibilty highlights the Boks lack of options at tighthead. The return of Coenie Oosthuisen to action with the Cheetahs will be eagerly watched.
Flip vd Merwe was industrious and did well to make his presence felt, he is often guilty of unnecesary penalties, but that is the role he plays. Juandre Kruger must shoulder much of the blame for the poor lineout performance of the Boks. Meyer needs to establish who his general is and stick with it. Perhaps a little harsh as this combination is new, but again it is surely a case of step up or step aside. The major flaws for the Bok pack today stemmed from teamwork and leadership and this will improve. Strauss needs to call the scrums better and between him and Kruger (if he remains the man in possesion) they need to iron out the lieout kinks. On the whole though it was an impressive performance by the Bok pack and they can certainly take heart that they are indeed competitive at this level. The eventual return of Coenie Oosthuisen, Bismarck du Plessis, Eben Etsebeth and Schalk Burger would certainly strengthen the Bok cause and the platform is certainly there to dictate our game to other teams. I for one believe there is the makings of an excellent Bok pack to take us forward and young guns like Steven Kitschoff, Ruan Botha, Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit will no doubt grow in stature as they mature. As ever our loose-forward stocks are looking good and Marcell Coetsee, Siya Kolisi and others will keep the heat on the incumbents.
That is where the good news ends though. The woes of the back division have reached a serious low-point. Francois Hougaard has looked far more comfortable and accomplished as a wing, while Ruan Pienaar has lacked the threat offered by his predecessor Fourie du Preez. As combinations go you simply have to have a 9/10 axis that can dictate a game. Morne Steyn is in a slump and with little help from his scrumhalf has been unable to have any control on the game. Poor kicking and decision making have blighted the Bok half-back combination regardless of wether Pienaar or Hougaard have been selected. Steyn was guilty this morning of some abysmal kicking out of hand and his goalkicking has suffered together with his plummeting confidence. The half-backs can certainly take a large portion of the blame for the Boks failure to turn good forward play in to points.
Frans Steyn looks to be finding some form, but having to play from deep and getting poor ball it is testament to his ability that he manages to make anything happen. It must be unbelievably frustrating for him to have little opportunity to play with ball in hand. Most of his work revolves around trying to get to the advantage line or clean up scrappy ball. He immediately showed his menace when Goosen gave him good flat ball to work with. It is like having Sonny-Bill and asking him to stop off-loading in to space. Steyn has not been helped by Jean de Villiers looking all at sea outside him. Meyer needs to have a long hard think about wether a veteran player should be asked to re-invent himself in the twilight of his career. De Villiers has shown glimpses, but today he ran poor lines, made poor decision and some shocking passes let him down. The skipper has had far better days on the park and will need to have a look at his game. His leadership and decision making has been tested and sadly he has not delivered.
That there is so much exciting talent available in the country bodes well for the future, but sadly for Meyer he needs to make sure the Boks deliver here and now. Johan Goosen showed in his effort today that we can play positive rugby and threaten with ball in hand. We have an army of ball carriers capable of taking the ball over the advantage line, all we need now is some spark and direction to give our backs the chance to capitalise. We have players with skill, pace and guile and we must bring them in to the game. Heyneke Meyer missed a great opportunity today to put one past the All Blacks early in his tenure and one has to wonder wether such an opportunity will present itself again. The Boks today were undone by poor decisions behind the pack and a gameplan that stifles any creativity at the back. I for one must question the ability of Ricardo Loubser at this level or the persistence with an out of form Steyn playing a gameplan that telegraphs its own intent. Can the Boks turn this around and take some heart from what went right today? I hope so.