The Springboks should not have to look too far for inspiration ahead of their final Vodacom Tri-Nations clash of the year against Australia at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that a look at the video of their Durban defeat should be enough to show them where they have been going wrong. Indeed, it shouldn’t even need to be a long look — it should take ten minutes, to be precise. That was how long the Boks persisted with their pre-match plan to employ the structure that won them a World Cup, and that was how long they were competitive in the game.
After that they reproduced their early composure, control and pinpoint tactical kicking only in patches, with the Australians taking control to win comfortably.
It has been a lean season for the Boks, who have slipped under new coach Peter de Villiers from their top position on the IRB Ranking list to third, and who in the space of just a few weeks have virtually destroyed the winning habit and the aura built up during their successful 2007 World Cup campaign.
Instead of coming to this final juncture playing for a third Tri-Nations title, which was a reasonable expectation given that the Boks had the most settled team at the start of the competition as well as the momentum, Victor Matfield’s team are trying just to avoid further dents to their pride.
Last week was all about suffering the first home defeat to Australia since 2000, as well as the first consecutive home defeat ever in the Tri-Nations. If they lose in Johannesburg, it will be their first defeat to the Wallabies at altitude since 1963, and also their first consecutive defeat to that nation since the same year.
Whichever way you look at it, it is bleak, and regardless of what they do on Saturday, even the best Bok performance will serve only to take away some of the misery, as happened when Carel du Plessis’s team won 61-22 in a similar “dead rubber” test in Pretoria 11 years ago.
Former Wallaby coach and Springbok technical adviser Eddie Jones said publicly this week what many top successful coaches have said in private over the past few months — the supposed new Bok game-plan is not workable at this level, at least not consistently.
It is debatable though how much intention there has been for the Boks to play to the De Villiers blue-print in the Tri-Nations matches that they have lost at home. Before the Newlands game against New Zealand the message filtered back that they were going to play sensible rugby, with Fourie du Preez’s selection mirroring an intent to play a kicking game.
That was not how Du Preez was used, however, and it may be that the early try they conceded to Conrad Smith threw the Boks a bit, and there was also no denying that their tactical kicking in the initial parts of the game were poor.
With the coach laying such massive stress on decision-making, perhaps that was why some of the players suddenly started to run the ball from their own half.
Last week, even though Australia were in control for most of the way, there was a massive improvement, and many South Africans would have sat bolt upright in surprise and eager anticipation of a long awaited victory when the team played conventional, controlled test rugby in the opening ten minutes.
Why it went wrong after that, and the script, confirmed by Jean de Villiers before that game, to play pragmatic rugby was dispensed with, is a great mystery.
But what most Bok supporters would agree about is that the path to a much needed win in Johannesburg will revolve around the team doing for 80 minutes on Saturday what they managed to do for the first ten minutes in Durban.
Both second-half tries last week came off structured build-ups, so there is reason to be hopeful that the Boks will return to what they know, and if they do, they should return to the thing South African teams have got to know against Australia on the Highveld over the years — that winning feeling.
Springboks: Conrad Jantjes, Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Jongi Nokwe, Butch James, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield (captain), Andries Bekker, Brian Mujati, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira.
Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Brian Mujati, Joe van Niekerk, Luke Watson, Ricky Januarie, Frans Steyn, Percy Montgomery.
Wallabies: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Stirling Mortlock, Timana Tahu, Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau, Sam Cordingley, Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh, Rocky Elsom, Hugh McMeniman, James Horwill, Matt Dunning, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson.
Reserves: Stephen Moore, Al Baxter, Dean Mumm, George Smith, Brett Sheehan, Ryan Cross, Drew Mitchell.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)
Prediction: It has been a year of firsts, but you have to believe that the Boks will avoid an ignominious home whitewash by having enough on the Highveld to beat an Australian team weakened by injury and which may have achieved their tour objective last week. If the Boks do lose twice consecutively to this Wallaby side, the crisis is bigger than we thought.Tweet