At this time when so much is being made of the new Springbok game-plan which is supposedly geared towards creating more try-scoring opportunities, perhaps we should think back to the Springbok home Tri-Nations match against New Zealand in 2004.
I am not going to dredge up all the facts about the Ellis Park match I am referring to, except to say that the Boks won handsomely and they did pick up the bonus point for scoring four tries. But here is the little fact that sticks in the mind from that game – centre Marius Joubert scored a hat-trick of tries, only the second Springbok, behind Ray Mordt, to do so against the All Blacks writes Gavin Rich on SuperRugby
In so doing, Joubert managed as many tries in one match as the current Springboks have managed in four Tri-Nations games. That is three tries in 320 minutes of rugby. There have been no tries in the last 160.
How are those for sobering statistics at the start of this new attacking era? If you attend Springbok press conferences, you get the impression that it all comes down to bad luck, that the Boks have had plenty of try-scoring opportunities that just haven’t been used. My view though is that if Lady Luck has attended any game in this year’s Tri-Nations, it was in the final minutes in Dunedin.
There may well have been missed opportunities, but I am not sure there have been more for the Boks than there have been for their opponents. Had Dan Carter kicked just one of his missed penalties in the first half last week, so drawing his team more than one score ahead, we could well have seen the South Africans swamped.
Apart from the bit of individual magic that nearly saw Bryan Habana in at the corner, I cannot recall many opportunities, unless they were of the type that former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones describes as “Fools Gold”. In other words, the apparent opportunity that is presented when space suddenly becomes available and it looks to the watching audience, and no doubt the attacking team, that an overlap has been created.
These days though, as Jones explained to some of us who were at the World Cup, defences are too organised, and often give the impression that there is an opportunity where there isn’t one.
In reality, the Boks were often being pushed out by a flat lining initial layer of All Black defenders, and when Beast Mtwarira kept popping up on the wing and giving the impression that the Boks were making a good fist of an attacking opportunity, what was really happening was that the Kiwis were doing what modern defences do – manipulating their opponents.
How many of those attacks went into blind corners, or led to the Boks carrying the ball into touch? In reality, the perception of greater Bok enterprise on attack may be the result a mirage, of something that isn’t really there.
The Boks talk of making a few tweaks to get it right, and all South Africans will hope they can, but already three matches have been lost in a season where the world champions should be expecting to win the Tri-Nations.
Carel du Plessis’s Bok team showed 11 years ago against the Wallabies at Loftus that the mindset which the Boks have at the moment can bring flurries of success on the days when everything sticks.
But the South African rugby brains-trust have to think very hard over whether this approach is ever going to bring consistent success. And if their reasoning is based on a view that the previous regime followed a strategy that did not produce tries or good attacking rugby, maybe they should put a phone call through to Marius Joubert and ask him about his finest moment as a rugby player.
He would probably agree that this was an occasion where elimination of risk did not translate into dour, unwatchable rugby. When the opportunity is there, you pounce, but only from the right field position and in the right situation. Test rugby is about capitalising on sustained pressure, but the current Bok team are not creating pressure for the simple reason that their new game leads to an increase in errors.Tweet