Last week I lamented about the lack of presence, urgency and innovation in the Springbok team when they played the Pumas in Mendoza. I concluded that on evidence of the lack of presence of the tight five and the slowness of the back row, I can’t see them winning in Brisbane.
The Springboks corrected all those shortcomings this weekend in Brisbane. The result – the greatest ever victory in Australia and the first win in Brisbane in 41 years.
Here is my list of things that really impressed me in this Test followed by a list of things I think they need to work on before they tackle the All Blacks at Edenpark.
Things that impressed in Brisbane:
- The urgency of the back row (flankers and No 8) to get to the breakdowns: For the first time in his Test career, Willem Alberts actually contributed for 80 minutes at the breakdowns. He and Duane Vermeulen showed real urgency and contribution at all collisions (wide and close) for almost the full 80 minutes. They were absent in Mendoza and the results obtained in this match has much to do, in my opinion, with their improved work rate -off and on the ball- in this match.
- Presence of the tight five at the collisions: I have vivid images of Coenie Oosthuizen and Beast mtawarira charging onto the Australian backline like loose forwards. There was real intent to apply pressure, to be in theWallaby faces, by the tight five. Eben Etzebeth showed his usual contributions in the tight loose but was supported this time by the other tight forwards. Flip van der Merwe made an impact as did Bismarck du Plessis. Even Jannie du Plessis was more active in the tight loose than usual.
- Physical presence / intimidation: The Springboks did not allow the Wallabies to push them around after the whistle. They won the physical battle comprehensively in the trenches. They were present and physical - dominant for most of the match.
- The Scrum: The Sprinboks annihilated the Wallabies in the scrums and in the rucks, which provided Will Genia with backfoot ball and essentially took him and Cooper out of the match.
- The defence: The commitment to first time tackles made a massive impact.
- The focus on the ball: I liked the way the Springboks were physical and in the Wallabies faces but totally focussed on the ball. They pushed and shoved back when the Wallabies started to get edgy but kept their focus and did not allow the Wallaby edginess and frustration to get in the way of the main task, namely to win the game.
- The speed onto the ball with the first two tries: The runners hit the passes from Ruan Pienaar at full tilt, flat on the advantage line.
- The urgency at recycling of front foot ball: The first two tries and the third try -to some degree- was the result of real urgency to clear the ball and whip it to the runners on a straight charge. For the first time since Springbok re-admittance, did I sense that the Springboks were starting to understand the league principle of creating forward roll effect. That is moving ground ball into the hands of charging team mates while the defence is still retreating.
- Innovation at the lineouts: Coenie Oosthuizen’s try came from a 5 meter lineout. Everyone was expecting a maul but the backs moved the ball to an incoming runner – the ball was recycled at tempo and popped into the hands of the charging replacement prop. It was the unexpectancy of it and the speed of this endeveour that took the Wallabies by surprise. Zane Kirchner’s try also came from a close quarter line-out. Again, instead of the traditional maul the Springboks did five quick “stampkar’s”, rolling to the left before quickly switching direction. Three or four big forwards were slowly getting off the ground -sort-off’ in the way (a-la Owen Franks) – when Ruan Pienaar changed direction and whipped a long pass to Willie le Roux, in space. I don’t think direct obstruction can be proven with the TV replays but the presence of the loitering forwards provided Ruan Pienaar with that two or three steps he needed to find Willie le Roux. The point here is that it was the step-away from the expected (lineout maul and / or continued stampkar bash-up’s), that created the try.
- Quick hands: The Jean de Villiers and Willie le Roux tries were the direct result of quick hands or a desire to attack space instead of the stereotype attempts to run over-opponents. For almost the first time in his career, a full backline move created an overlap for Bryan Habana. The urgency of the big forwards to get to the ball and recycle it after Habana chip kicked, was a delight to behold. The speed at which that ball went to Jean de Villiers -at the back of a dummy runner- was pure pleasure. Willie le Roux’s try came from a Duanne Vermeulen turnover and a back-hand offload. The ball skipped on the ground to Willie le Roux in space and that essentially created the try.
- Collective and aggressive counter-rucking with low body positions: The Springboks prevented the Wallabies from getting rhythm with constant urgent defence and aggressive collective counter-rucking. The result was 5 turnovers, 4 penalties and constant slow ball for Will Genia.
Things that the Springboks can still work on:
- Discipline at the tackle ball: In particular Flip van der Merwe was guilty of ill dicipline. He was penalised at least 4 times for the same type of offenses. This is a constant theme with Flip van der Merwe. Every time he comes on as a substitution he gets penalised within 5 minutes from taking the field.
- The lull the team went into after halftime: The whole Springbok team was in “lala land” for the first 7 minutes after halftime. The All Blacks will score two tries in 7 minutes if the Springboks become so unfocussed, from the dressing room, after halftime.
- Steyn’s tactical kicking at the start of the second half -in particular – but also sporadically during the match: There was just too much “Just-kicking-it-down-field” in the 10 minutes after halftime. This is a particular theme when the Springboks are in the lead. If you do kick it to the corners, see to it that you force a lineout or push the catcher against the touchline. Kicking it to the middle of the field, down the throat of a waiting Isreal Dagg, it would be asking for trouble.
In summary, I was extremely pleased with the Springbok team’s performance against Australia’s Wallabies. That meekness so evident when they play outside South Africa was gone. The Springboks announced themselves on the field in no uncertain terms, but kept their focus. They were conservative (not neglecting traditional strengths), yet innovative (trying new stuff) and they are willing to run with the ball.
Well done Bokkies!