England didn’t think about Plan B….
It was quite apparant that the Springbok’s plan was clearly known to us, the world and the English before they even took the field. The predictable box kick approach with wings chasing up and trying to force errors was clear from the onset. And England had a plan to counter it.
Concerns were rife after the Baby Boks poor display against Ireland, mainly as a result of poor kicking from the scrumhalves from the backs of the ruck, that the Springboks will play a similar game. And I was close to nauseau when I saw that this was indeed, exactly what was happening. The pattern was clear: Set up the ruck, forwards exit to the backline, ball is left unprotected, England counter rucks and Hougaard can’t play the ball.
Alternatively, the Boks set up the ruck, they protect the ball well enough for Hougie to handle it. Hougie broadcasts his next move to the men sitting on Saturn, and the English employ the red scrumcapped Tom Johnson to charge down the kick from the side of the ruck. How offside or not offside he was is irrelevant. He did it enough times for it to seem legal, and just as with the baby Boks, this halted the planned route the Boks were trying to take.
Plan A didn’t work. Predicably so.
However, what was relieving, even though not entirely convincing, was the manner in which the Springboks tried to avoid the charge down at the ruck, to give Hougie more time to kick. Building a worm at the back of the ruck, frustratingly taking ages to play the ball.
The first half battle was saved by the tenacity of Willem Alberts and never-say-die defense of the Springbok backline. The halftime score was justified at 6-6, but had Morne converted the kick at the stroke of halftime, the halftime lead of the Springboks would have sugarcoated an ineffective first half performance.
Heyneke Meyer, though, proved he had more common sense than rigid steadfastness, and the Springboks came out in the second half with a much more relevant and impressive performance. A performance which did not allow England any breathing space or posession.
The kicking from the back of the rucks was halted and Hougaard was allowed to play his natural game. The backline got more frontfoot ball, the forwards got more into the game and the Springboks absolutely dominated every aspect of the game.
Plan B was initiated, and it worked!
It’s quite comforting to see and now know, that the Springboks can adapt to the requirements of each game. It took them the first half to get into their groove, try a few things and make it work. When it didn’t they adapted, changed their approach, and succeeded by scoring two tries unanswered until time was basically over.
In the end, I was very happy with the way the Springboks closed out the game, although a little lapse in concentration in the end made the scoreline flatter the English.
Congratulations Bokke, and congratulations Heyneke on your first win as Springbok coach, and Jean on your fabulous try and win as Springbok captain!
The matchday 22 mostly lived up to expectations in the second half, but just a couple of side notes from my side:
1. Hougaard’s natural game is not to make box kicks. He needs to work on the time he takes with the kicks.
2. I thought that Heyneke may have seen the error of his ways in selecting Kirchner when he subbed him for Lambie, seemingly much earlier than anticipated, but reports are that Kirchner has an injury, and that might be the reason he’s been subbed. Honestly, Lambie was way more involved when he came on and made a major difference.
3. With the high workrate and great performance of Habana, you surely cannot exclude him from the Bok squad, I don’t care how much his critics complain.
4. That said, we need a backline player on the bench that can do more than cover centre. We were massively exposed when Habana went off for blood and Wynand had to cover for him.
5. The only change I’ll make to the starting 15 though is Lambie in for Kirchner. Kirchner, if injured, will drop out of the 22 man squad, while I would pick Basson to replace him on the bench.
Wynand will stay on the bench as cover for Lambie….Should Lambie get injured, Frans will fall back to full back and Olivier will go the centre. We have no other full backs in the squad. So, Kirchner out, Basson in.
Players who will hopefully step up in the next test:
Spies —> need more brawn from him, he plays well below his strength.
JP Peterson —> a little slow on defense, need to get more involved.
Hougaard —-> starting looking good just before he was taken off. Will hopefully be allowed his natural game next weekend.
Morne Steyn —-> Bok plan is based on his kicking accuracy. Kicking to posts was not his usual excellence.
Overall, if I had to rate the match out of 10 for the Boks, I’d give it a 5.5. 4/10 for the first half, 7/10 for the second half.
Looking forward to next weeks match; I am expecting a thrashing of the English!