This test will be remembered as the Dean Greyling test as he was like a Rhino in a china shop; a demolisher on a rampage that cost us the match in my opinion (an opinion that Heynecke Meyer seems to share). It must be the single worst effort by a South African rugby player in a test match ever.
In the end it was another test that got away due to ill-discipline, poor kicking (tactical and place kicking) and poor passing. We threw away 17 points with kicks (5 penalties and a conversion) as well as a very plausible try scoring opportunity in the first 5 minutes of the game. That is another 7 points bringing the amount of points that we pissed away to 21. Jean de Villiers said it after the match; “You can’t expect to win against the All Blacks if you mess up so many point scoring opportunities”.
The Springboks must be wondering this morning just how did this one got away.
Who to blame for this loss? An out of control Dean Greyling; an off target Morné Steyn or a game-plan of mindless kicking? Probably, a combination of all of the above but I reckon the real culprit is an inability to play heads-up rugby or as I want to put it lack of ball sense (due to lack of adequate terminology I use the term ball sense but read on to see what I mean with that and with the term heads-up rugby).
Dean Greyling came on and within minutes he gave away a penalty that was converted into points. If this was the first time he did something like that it would probably be digestible but this seems to be a pattern with him as it happened in at least one (if not all) of his previous test matches. How many more times before he learns? He then proceeded and got himself sin binned for 10 minutes for a cheap shot on McCaw before giving away another two penalties the last one right at the death which cost SA a bonus point. Sorry but this sort of BS is just not acceptable.
I don’t want to spend the whole piece on Dean Greyling because he is just not worth it and I hope to never see him in a Springbok team again. Greyling’s penalties (poor technique at the rucks) and fumble of the ball in a try scoring situation after a lineout is however indicative of a larger problem within South African rugby.
I don’t want to generalise but lack of ball sense seems to our biggest obstacle. It is this lack of a true feeling for time and space that prevents us from playing heads-up rugby and to close matches out. Our players are like little robots following instructions and have no real feeling for time and space.
I am talking about an inherent and refined ability to adjust your body and movements in a split second to maximize ball control and/or impact. Tony Woodcock creating turnover ball from Bekker is an example of an well developed sense of time and space at the tackle ball. This has been coached out of our players. Our forwards enter the rucks like rampaging bulls with little understanding of timing, technique, angles and foot placement. Players like Keegan Daniel (attacking space) and Heinrich Brussouw (natural body adjustment at the ruck) that has developed such abilities don’t get selected because they are not robotic enough.
I use the term ball sense here to communicate that sense for time and space that all superstars or great players demonstrate in every facet of their play. A feeling for time and space comes into play in rugby at rucks, tackles, mauls and in the running of support lines. A feeling for where the space are when you run with the ball or when you run in support with an automatic response to exploit those spaces by adjusting your running lines as the situation changes. It includes also an understanding of what your team mates are likely to do and adjusting your running lines to either create space for him or to be in position to support.
The try by Isreal Dagg is a classic example of what I am writing about namely how the off-the-ball running lines of the tight forwards can create space for the speedsters on the outside. When Dagg handled the ball the first time –in that move that led to his try- at least three forwards (two of which were tight forwards) ran supporting lines towards his inside –knowing that he will go to the outside- forcing the opposition to hesitate. This created more space for him on the outside because Dagg sensing what was happening intuitively goose stepped using the running lines of his tight forwards to his advantage. He swerved to the outside and slipped the ball to Whitelock who ran splendidly before offloading with a backhand pass (sensing the support) to Kieran Read while tumbling head first into the ground. Kieran Read then ran a line that put him between two defenders and Dagg coming through on the outside (sensing space and reading the speed of the incoming defenders)before shifting the ball to the flying fullback for a brilliant try.
This try by Dagg was produced by tight forwards with an inherent sense of time and space that our players just don’t have and which they will not develop through osmoses. There are specific drills that need to be done to develop this ability but more importantly the way we South Africans think about the game and play the game need to evolve.
Mindless kicking -infuriating to watch- and a mind-set that set piece (scrum and line-out) and physical bullying at the rucks are what the game is all about is turning our players into one-dimensional brutes with no muscle memory or skills to exploit time and space at close quarters or out wide in the backline.
Our players can’t read moments or matches namely how the match enfolds and are as a consequence unable to adjust on the field. Our coaches can’t do it either hence the tendency to select one-dimentional players and for opposition teams to figure us out and to take control in the second half.
Our players are like rampaging bulls in a china shop and even when they man up and play with heart and determination like in the last two games they lack the ability to intuitively adjust to the situation and close matches out.
This will remain the situation in SA rugby with the fate of losing matches that we should have won until we select coaches and players that can turn it around.