Whatever the explanation for Australia’s decision to treat Saturday’s Test match as little more than a game of beach rugby in the sunshine, certain facts are undeniable about the home side’s performance.
Peter Bills writes in Pretoria News that despite their coach’s denials, manifested by a sullen “it wouldn’t be fair to say that” answer to suggestions that the Springboks had played a more structured game, the evidence was there before our eyes.
Three of the South Africans’ four first half tries were created by positions established from long kicks downfield or skywards by Butch James. His vastly improved tactical kicking was reminiscent of Daniel Carter’s against Australia in Auckland earlier in the tournament when the All Blacks, like the Springboks on Saturday, had turned the tables on their Australian foes.
Instead of trying to run everything out of defence, the South Africans used the aerial route to make significant territorial advantages. Then they struck with ball in hand. This was proof that even De Villiers had accepted the need for more pragmatism in his side’s game, a greater structure and a proper platform before launching the running attacks.
South Africa also kept their play much simpler than at any previous time in this Tri-Nations competition. They made the ball do the work and that was sufficient because there were so many holes in the Australian defence. All they needed to show was an ability to time a pass and exploit space.
Given the hari-kiri approach of the Wallabies, the Springboks could settle down, stay calm and simply await the next score.
It was always just around the corner against so woeful an outfit as Australia on this particular day.
The worthy Percy Montgomery said afterwards, in announcing his retirement from Test rugby, that the decision had been coming for some time. But the amount of room donated by Australia in this game (you couldn’t call it a contest) must have had Percy pondering whether to play on.
Of course, the truth is, proper Test match rugby isn’t like this. Teams don’t go out and just throw the ball anywhere, run from crazy positions and fall off tackles everywhere. Not unless they have a death wish. The second half was like a slightly elevated training session with wave after wave of attacks raining down on defenders with only a limited interest in stopping them.
Therefore, De Villiers’ talk later that someone was always bound to get a hiding if the Boks got things together, was premature. For the majority of this competition, the South Africans have been a crushing failure, a huge disappointment as four defeats in six games says. But at least on Saturday, whatever the farcical attitude of the opposition, there were encouraging signs that some players were starting to learn the intricacies and requirements of their coach’s more fluid game plan. Instead of constantly going to ground when in possession, players stayed on their feet far more and off-loaded either just before or in the tackle. This meant a momentum, a flow was established and it was far too much for the Wallabies.
The surprise is that it took the World Cup holders all season to show signs of beginning to master the intended style of De Villiers. That revealed how deeply ingrained the previous regime’s ways and methods had been in the minds of these players. To see international players, indeed world champions, struggling to come to terms with a new style raised eyebrows in a good many circles.
The pity for South Africa is that they now have a vacuum of two months before resuming international matches. And those will be in the northern hemisphere in November when the grounds are much softer and often wet. In such conditions, it’s a lot tougher to perform this kind of fluid rugby and the South Africans must retain the greater pragmatism they showed in Johannesburg.Tweet