GUEST POST: All views are purely that of the author, The Sport Freak does not necessarily agree or disagree with the following.
Having watched, analysed and dissected the South African three test series against an ever-improving Ireland, I would like to firstly say well done to Allister Coetzee and the boys, however . . . with a pinch (or heap) of salt. To put it mildly, our beloved Springbok is in trouble!
I state this as a forewarning to Coetzee and his coaching staff with the Rugby Championship looming ever closer The foes are mighty, the competition fierce and there is little room for error.
The two matches against the All Blacks alone will prove to be our toughest in recent memory. Australia will be smarting after their humiliation by the English and Argentina know they can beat us now (if you need convincing, take a look at what their junior team did to ours last week).
The Boks four darkest days were undoubtedly the World Cup embarrassment to Japan, the pathetic 53-3 loss to England at Twickers, shockingly losing at Loftus of all places to the All Blacks by a record 52-16 score-line and the 49-0 drubbing by Australia under Jake White.
Considering the above, it comes as little surprise, that the average fan is doing cart-wheels at the 2-1 series win but the life-long, die-hard supporters such as myself knows, all too well, that this team, is nowhere near their best. In fact, it is hard to even call them a team, since had it not been for a number of individual performances the result could easily have been much different.
The three matches in a nutshell
The initial fire and excitement for the new era was subsequently doused and extinguished with the opening 26-20 loss at Newlands (with an extra man for most of the match). I have never seen a Bok team play with so little passion.
The traditional ‘bok-lash’ was evident in the second match at the South African fortress which is Ellis Park with altitude and individual brilliance saving our bacon.Ruan Combrinck almost single-handedly carried the team in that second half in what was quite an epic comeback, to win 32-26. Trailing 19-3 in the first half was however truly abject, indeed worrying and downright unacceptable.
The third test saw somewhat of an improvement from the Boks in Port Elizabeth, especially in the scrums and overall set-piece play, but South Africa was still far from convincing, being lucky to have scraped to a 19-13 victory.
Ireland could have easily captured the series as wave upon wave of Irish attack battered away at an ever tiring Springbok defensive line, especially in the final 5-minutes. Where had it not been for some individual brilliance (this time by Faf DeKleker) the result would have been much different.
Very inconsistent stuff from the nation’s pride and should they continue on their current trajectory, they are bound to get cut apart in the upcoming Rugby Championship. What I have gathered from the series is this:
What Was Learned – Positives & Negatives
There was a constant improvement from one match to the next. Coetzee tweaked certain aspects and match day line-ups were improved as well as our set-pieces. Our scrum really tore into the Irish in the third test and our line-out was imperious. Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit will probably make the starting team for a World XV and the second row is probably the only area where we can confidently claim to be on par or better than the All Blacks (don’t forget about the gentle giant Lood de Jager).
The injection of certain Lions players is most definitely welcomed as well. Combrinck, Jaco Kriel, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whitley and Franco Mostert, among others, should form the core of this team up until the next World Cup. Another positive is that the good old fashion Bok fight is still there, proven by our tough-as-teak defence in the third test.
Coaching Staff – Where do I start? Firstly, the coaching staff as a whole. Mzwandile Stick was promoted to Bok offensive coach after doing the same job for the worst team in Super Rugby – the Kings. How on earth does he deserve this job ahead of more seasoned, deserving competitors? Forwards gurus Johann van Graan and Matt Proudfoot are not the best tacticians and Coetzee himself couldn’t even get over the line in Super Rugby.
Discipline – Ill-Discipline is another huge factor. Giving away unnecessary penalties is the one area where we have shown consistency which is rather concerning.
Execution – Basics are not being carried out – ball handling, touch finders and kicking out of hand (aimless as usual) are just a few of the basics we have failed to get right.
Goal Kicking – Goalkicking also remains a concern. Elton Jantjies is not the most reliable first-five-eighth and one conversion can be the difference between winning and losing. Whether Jantjies is good enough to be considered for a starting slot is out of the scope of this post, however, a 66% average success rate from the tee is certainly not good enough from an international flyhalf.
Defense – Our defensive strategy seems to be outdated and similar to Coetzee’s Stormers days – teams quickly began to decipher it and the All Blacks will tear it to shreds. We had more missed tackles than the Irish, more turnovers conceded and had more defenders beaten.
Statistics – We had less clean breaks than the opposition, fewer meters made, fewer carries and less loose ball steals. Furthermore, we were forced to make much more tackles than the opposition.
Statistically, the only area where we did succeed was with more off-loads and scrum wins, although the latter came at a high price in terms of the huge discrepancy in terms of handling errors between the Boks and Irish.
If the above is not enough to make you squint, don’t even get me started on territory and possession – you do not want to view those stats.
The above, are all startling statistics for a team about to take on the likes of the All Blacks. Our attacking prowess is almost non-existent and our maul is lacking the grunt of old. How do we plan to cut through New Zealand’s black wall?
Transformation – The contentious issue of transformation is a constant sword hanging over the Springbok performance, and the almost non-existent game time that Rudie Paige gets off the bench serves as proof that AC is trying to make up some numbers.
This is also the reason Malcolm Marx may not be called up and why Jaco Kriel hasn’t been given the start that he deserves (we need a fetcher – our breakdowns and rucks are yet more reasons for concern). Also, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Movovo will be in their mid-thirties by 2019 – way too old for wingers. I could go on and on.
The negatives sadly outweigh the positives and fans should be quivering at the mere mention of the Rugby Championship. We are unbeaten in ten years against England and I fear even that streak will end come November.
If Eddie Jones can down us with Japan, what are his former world champions England, going to do to us? I would like to suggest a full proof, five-step plan to Coetzee on how to successfully topple the All Blacks at least once this year:
- Start praying
- Wish for a miracle
- Hope that the day we face them is indeed their one ‘off’ day (law of averages and all that)
- Consult a Sangoma (even though this didn’t work too well for Bafana-Bafana)
- Rely on luck and the ‘bounce of the ball’
I hate to be a pessimist and probably shouldn’t be sarcastic about the dire state of our rugby but as a realist, and a die-hard fan for 21 years, this is the first time that I am actually expecting the worst.
Normally after the first few tests of a season, fans look forward to the Wallabies and All Blacks games with fervour and excitement. This time, it is more with fear and trepidation. Oh dear Boks, I don’t mind sampling some humble pie and implore and beg you to go out there and prove me wrong!
Dhirshan Gobind is a 30 something freelance sports columnist/writer /blogger and a UKZN alumnus with a degree in Marketing Management. He also has a column in ‘The Post’ and ‘Galaxy News’ and writes regularly on Sport24.
Do you agree with Dhirsan’s thoughts, what did you make of his post? You know where to find the comment section!