After slipping to their sixth defeat in eight games in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby season, even coach Naka Drotske had to admit that his team’s slim outside chances of staging a massive comeback is dead and buried and now only pride remains for the team to play for.
The way their defensive system creaked in losing 52-31 to the Crusaders on Saturday it is clear that a lot of the promise they showed in 2013 has evaporated and the same defensive frailties have re-emerged this year as the Bloemfontein side play some beautiful rugby, but leave their fans tearing their hair out as they allow silly turnovers and soft moments to become costly.
They will lick their wounds this morning and hope that by the time they reach Durban on Saturday to face the log-topping Cell C Sharks, they are a different side.
And Drotske conceded that his side’s concentration, turnovers and mistakes were fatal against a side so streetsmart as the Crusaders.
“The way we play now, we can’t be positive of still making the playoffs,” Drotske admitted.
“At this stage, we’re our own worst enemies. I said to the players now that I don’t think any team outplayed us this year, every time we scored some great tries we let them back in with tries from our mistakes.
“That is crucial, I thought in the first half we lacked a little bit of intensity, we were still in it at 19-10, and just after halftime we conceded a try from the kickoff when there was no pressure and suddenly it was 24-10.
“We did great to come back and scored some great tries and then we gave it back to them with mistakes from our side. We need to learn to concentrate for 80 minutes”
Drotske said his team’s problems weren’t confined just to defensive mistakes, but rather the way they attack as well. Turnovers have been a massive problem for his team as they excel in taking the ball up, but at times become isolated and cough up the ball, allowing teams to target them at the rucks.
“Of course it has to be a concern, but it is very important that you get the right stats and see everything in perspective,” Drotske said on the team’s defence.
“Like I’ve said, a lot of those tries were scored from turnovers when we couldn’t hang onto the ball. So I wouldn’t give the fault to defence completely.
“The way we attacked this year is also not the same as last year, where last year we could hang onto the ball for 7/8/9 phases, and build an innings, this year we made a lot of mistakes.
“At one stage when we toured, we conceded 19 tries and 10 of those were when we were attacking and losing the ball. There is no structure on defence from turnovers, so it is not entirely the way we defend.
“As a whole we don’t play the same rugby as last year. There are too many soft moments, we need to start at the basics again.
“Maybe sometimes we want to play too expansive and we need to hang onto the ball. I think last week was a good example where we attacked really well, kept the ball and the Chiefs didn’t have any opportunities at halftime.
“But yes, there were too many soft moments and too many turnovers. Yes defence is a concern and you can’t disagree with the facts and the stats.”
Drotske also agreed that his side were beaten in the air on Saturday, with the Crusaders targeting them with accurate kicking and then at the next breakdown after his back three tried to run the ball back at them.
“I think they’ve used the tactic a lot this season, and against the Lions as well. It is part of their game plan. I think their execution of their game plan was very good in the game,” he explained.
“Their up and unders were placed well and placed us under pressure for the entire match. Even if Hennie Daniller or Willie le Roux caught the ball, they targeted the next breakdown because they’re going forward and we’re playing backwards.
“I think most of the teams are more or less on the same game plan but it comes down to execution on the day. I think we kicked a number of our up and unders too deep.
“We couldn’t put the same sort of pressure on them.”
On Monday Drotske has to find an answer ahead of their clash in Durban, as they know the Sharks have enough firepower out wide to counter their attack and have enough speed to punish it.
Limiting the mistakes is a start, but a more controlled approach may be necessary if they want to upset the form South African team of the competition at the moment.