Rugby Championship: Boks with no spring
The Springboks displayed a distinct lack of spark during the Test against Australia in Perth on Saturday. Let’s hope their fans won’t have to be embarrassed of them for too much longer, writes KEN BORLAND.
Springbok fans will be dying of embarrassment as one of the weakest Australian teams in recent memory won a record fifth successive Test against South Africa, 26-19 in Perth on Saturday.
This is an Australian team that has only one or two players that would be considered for a World XV, had lost their opening two Rugby Championship games, blanked by the All Blacks last time out, and were under immense pressure leading into the game.
That pressure only intensified in the first half as the Springboks strangled them, pinning them in their own territory for lengthy periods. Possession may have been 50/50, but South Africa spent 66% of the first half in Australian territory.
The Wallabies, on the verge of disarray, should have been put away in that first half, but these Springboks totally lack a ruthless touch, especially on attack.
Australia went into the shed relieved to be just 6-13 down and were a much-improved outfit in the second half.
But the Springboks still enjoyed 50% possession and 61% territory in the second half, yet they could score just six points. Frustratingly, good ball was kicked away when they were inside the Wallabies half, Morne Steyn missed a crucial penalty in the 50th minute and a lineout throw was lost inside the 22 in the dying moments.
South Africa’s much-maligned kicking game worked a treat in the first half, creating the platform for victory as Australia’s weak kickers simply could not get them out of their territory, resorting to disastrous grubbers.
But the Springboks were once again limp on attack. Apart from Bryan Habana, who popped up everywhere before he left the field with a leg injury in the 53rd minute, there was no spark. The backline looked pedestrian and simply did not gel, failing to seize on a number of opportunities when they created holes in the Wallabies defence.
While flyhalf Morne Steyn is the obvious target as scapegoat, there is another issue which coach Heyneke Meyer may have to wrestle with, and that is his captain, Jean de Villiers, at 13.
A fine captain and person, a great Springbok and a highly-respected inside centre De Villiers may be, but the 31-year-old didn’t threaten once on attack and, the one time he did find himself in space on the outside, he and replacement wing Lwazi Mvovo managed to get in each other’s way and the turnover ball and overlap yielded nothing.
That was in the 58th minute and, just two minutes earlier, De Villiers also missed the midfield tackle on Dom Shipperley that led to Scott Higginbotham’s try. South Africa have some right to feel hard done by, however, as the move started from a scrum penalty against them that even the Australian commentators agreed was unjust.
But the Springboks clearly also still have problems with their pillar defence around the fringes as Higginbotham burst between Willem Alberts and Steyn at a ruck in the shadow of the poles, while Australia’s second try, by prop Ben Alexander, also came after gaps were left close to the breakdown.
South Africa have a ready-made replacement captain when Schalk Burger is fit, although Meyer might prefer to move De Villiers to his favoured position at inside centre. The coach will then, however, have to sacrifice the physical presence and direct running of Francois Steyn that he loves so much at 12.
Meyer belatedly introduced Pat Lambie into Rugby Championship action in the last 10 minutes, but it was the debut of the 20-year-old Johan Goosen in place of Morne Steyn at flyhalf that perhaps shows the coach the way to go in future.
Goosen, in his brief cameo, showed a willingness to take the ball to the defence, beat tackles and generally just looked a better attacking option. Plus we all know there is nothing wrong with his boot, and he can tackle.
There are arguments, of course, that Meyer should wait before thrusting Goosen into a starting role against the All Blacks. But the longer he waits, the more the Springboks will frustrate on attack. What everyone agrees on, however, is that Goosen is bound to have a long international career.
Whether Meyer enjoys the same remains to be seen. He will plead that it is very difficult to turn naturally conservative players into attacking dynamos overnight. But to dominate a poor Wallaby team for so long and still not manage to put them away means he has to add something more adventurous, more incisive to the current mix. DM
Photo: South Africa's Springboks' Duane Vermeulen (top) jumps to avoid Australia's Wallabies' Radike Samo (bottom) as Springboks' Francois Louw (L) is tackled by Wallabies' Scott Higginbotham during their Rugby Championship test match in Perth September 8, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer