Let me start off this column by saying I felt the Boks played as well as they were expected to play. No special ire is reserved for any one player as I feel this game was lost before we even took the field, possibly before the squad even left the Republiek.
It was a rough, tough old game, very much in the mould of the traditional Springbok All Black rivalry. The game was played at a furious pace with players putting their bodies on the line on both sides in far from ideal conditions.
Now for a bit of armchair analysis.
It is my considered opinion that this game was lost before we took the field. Effectively I feel it was lost in the selection process.
Without being harsh I’ve identified three areas and three crucial decisions that cost us a once-in-a-decade opportunity to put one over the old enemy.
First up, we got mullered in the scrums. Widely predicted before the game, not addressed by the Bok management, and in the end we ended up giving up valuable front foot ball even on our own scrums.
How a side with such an experienced engine room could capitulate so badly in the scrums is beyond me. Hence my statement above that the game was lost before we left the Republiek, the same time we left the best tighthead in the country to watch the game on the tele. Yes, I did sort of agree with the decision at the time as Botha is off to Ireland at the end of the year, but this was also before I realised quite how weak the next-best choice was. Our front row buckled all game. Now I’ve never played front row in my life before, apart from a 20 minute stint at hooker when I was 14, but I have been told that it’s incredibly difficult for a prop to play the open game when they’re having their head shoved up their arse at every scrum. Getting your own ball out while on the backfoot is also less than ideal.
The other big selection blunder was something I alluded to in the pre-match column and that was a lack of a long boot on the pitch during the game.
It was easily identifiable how much more distance Carter was getting on his clearance kicks than Butch. Butch wasn’t poor and he kicked to par today – he’s never had a long boot, for most of his career he’s hardly had any boot at all! In conditions such as those that this game was played under an extra ten or twenty metres on a clearance kick is worth gold. To use a golfing analogy it’s like playing a long course and not taking your driver out of the bag all round. Any golfers reading this piece will quickly realise that not getting distance on your drive leaves a much more difficult approach shot with a longer iron and your round will suffer. That was how I felt the Boks kicking game worked today – they just weren’t getting enough bang for their buck. Now that in itself is not a big deal if you have no other options. But when you have two of the biggest boots in world rugby on the bench in Frans Steyn and Percival Montgomery, then it becomes sacrilege. Frans Steyn is far from the complete player but on a day like today those 60 metre punts would’ve been invaluable.
Lastly, and most importantly, I thought we lost the tactical battle, the battle between the coaches so to speak.
New Zealand identified the Bok line-out as our biggest strength and actively avoided giving us almost any throw-ins in the first half. Unbelievably the first Bok line-out only came in the 32nd minute, with new Zealand effectively shutting down the greatest Springbok attacking weapon by simply not kicking the ball out. It was a master stroke by Henry and paid extensive dividends, helped on by our insistence on not starting with a fullback with a monster boot. I’m actually quite shocked as to how easy we made this part of the game for them. I can even imagine how Henry and co must’ve been chuckling to themselves in the lead-up to this game when they thought this up. We simply had no answer. They booted it down our throats, avoided the line-out but then weren’t concerned because we were getting less distance on the returns.
It was simply too easy with them simply denying us ball and knowing that they wouldn’t even have to take risks by not kicking out, simply because we didn’t have the boot to punish them. Interestingly they changed tack the moment Steyn entered the fray but by that time the game was won.
In short, tactical and selection blunders cost us the best chance of beating New Zealand in New Zealand for the first time in a decade. It also gifted them momentum and, while not written in stone, if we wanted the TriNations title this was really the game to win.
The fact we were even in this game is solely down to the quality of the South African players on the park with no thanks to any strategic input from our coaches.
Earlier in the week I criticised Adi Jacobs for a perceived weakness in defence. Suffice to say he silenced his critics in this regard. He didn’t have a spectacular game but was solid and reliable but all-in-all a good performance from him. He certainly did all asked from him.
It was noticeable how the Bok pack fell apart the moment smit left the field. This is despite the fact that I actually thought Bismarck had a really good game and outshone John Smit, especially in the loose. He played like an extra loose forward and I actually thought he shaded our back three in the loose. I do feel for him as he is playing better than Smit but Smit is unfortunately so integral to the on-field leadership that he is indispensable. On a related issue, I was told Watson took the field at some or point during the game. I don’t think I saw him once.
I didn’t think the All Blacks did anything special today – I didn’t actually think they played all that well. They just identified how they were going to win the game and went out and executed the plan.
If de Villiers wants to in any way continue where Jake White left off in September last year he’ll have to do a lot more thinking and seriously step up to the plate both in terms of selection and in terms of strategy. When you are playing at this level it’s the little things that change games and wins against the best in the business need more than simply excellent players.
A famous NFL coach, I forget his name, once said you that a good coach can never make an average team great but a poor coach can make a great team average. Unless de Villiers wants to be the latter he’ll need to do more tactically to take this team to the heady heights they are capable of. I’m not saying de Villiers is a poor coach, Lord knows it would be premature to make that judgement, but on the face of today’s performance it won’t be long before the public pressure mounts.
We can get away with suspect selections against the likes of any northern hemisphere sides based purely on the more talented players and greater depth that we have at our disposal. But to beat our southern hemisphere opponents you need more than that. You need a plan.
Second-rate selections can be hidden when playing an inferior side but against a complete side like New Zealand, with the brains of Henry and co behind them, they are brutally exposed, possibly weeks before the actual game is played.
If my report sounds harsh then it’s simply because I’m bitterly disappointed that we simply didn’t play to our potential and a few simple changes could’ve had a profound effect on this game. It’s almost as if we reverted to the Bok sides of the past where we’re unable to adapt if something doesn’t work.
Why it took till the 60th odd minute to introduce a big boot when it was blatantly apparent that this was the area we were struggling in from the tenth minute onwards is beyond me. Is there some unwritten rule that you simply must wait until the 60th minute before making your first substitution? Because that’s what it seemed like. Not only could we not adjust our gameplan but we couldn’t even introduce the players onto the pitch that were needed, even though they were only sitting about 3 metres from the field of play. If I can see this then why can the powers-that-be not?
Just not good enough Peter de Villiers, just not good enough.
Well done to the players though, with what you had you played exceptionally well. If only you had the necessary guidance you would’ve won.
Bitterly disappointing. Once again.Tweet