South Africa’s dramatic loss to the All Blacks on Saturday featured some spectacularly stupid moves on the Springboks’ part. But surprisingly, writes KEN BORLAND, the news isn’t all bad.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has a degree in psychology and he will surely need to have sessions with Morne Steyn on the couch – and bring Dean Greyling along for good measure – after South Africa’s infuriating 21-11 loss to the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.
Meyer has persevered with Steyn at flyhalf for all seven Tests this year, but surely a man of his intellectual capacity and people skills must now realise that the hero of 2009 and 2010 is mentally shattered and devoid of all confidence.
The Springboks wasted 20 points with kicks at goal, with Steyn missing three penalties along with a conversion, while Francois Steyn (2) and Johan Goosen also missed three long-range penalties between them.
It is hard to remember a substitute having a more disastrous impact than Greyling did. The front-ranker clearly needs his head read after conceding some of the stupidest penalties possible on a rugby field, including a shocking assault on the face of Richie McCaw that is bound to have some more serious consequences than the yellow card he was issued with.
The inexperienced Springbok pack was magnificent in a come-of-age performance that saw them match if not edge the All Blacks up front, laying a platform that was ultimately wasted by Morne Steyn and some laborious backline play.
There were some promising signs from the backline, but great try-scoring opportunities were butchered in the fifth minute, on the half-hour and on the hour mark.
With three minutes remaining and the All Blacks 18-11 up, the Springboks were then gifted another golden opportunity when Keven Mealamu threw a lineout ball five metres from his own line straight to Greyling, who promptly dropped the ball.
The Blue Bulls prop should have had the good grace to want to be swallowed whole by the Forsyth Barr Stadium turf, but instead he then cost South Africa even a bonus point for their efforts when he stupidly handled the ball in a ruck, allowing All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden to kick a penalty after the final hooter.
Greyling’s first act after coming on to the field in the 50th minute was also a blatant hands in the ruck, Cruden’s penalty allowing New Zealand to draw level just two minutes after Bryan Habana’s brilliant individual try.
There were times in the first half when the All Blacks were floundering against the Springboks’ suffocating defence, physicality in the collisions and pressure game. But the goalkicking woes drowned out all conversation about those major positives.
Fullback Israel Dagg’s wonderful attacking instincts saw him feature prominently in the move he finished for the All Blacks’ opening try in the 20th minute and the hosts led 5-3 at half-time. At that stage, South Africa had already missed 15 points via missed kicks at goal.
But the Springboks regained the lead in the 50th minute through Habana’s brilliant try. Flip van der Merwe won the lineout throw and, even though Francois Louw stumbled in receiving the pop off the top, he found Habana roaring through on the angle. South Africa’s all-time leading try-scorer burst through the first line of defence before he chipped over the fullback and regathered the ball to score in the right corner.
The next half-hour was dominated by Greyling, although Morne Steyn also kicked away some good attacking ball with aimless kicks. If it were the navy, they would be consigned to port immediately by the good ship South Africa, because their heads are clearly not in the right place.
But there are huge positives to be drawn from the game for the Springboks, even if the result was a major disappointment.
The ferocious performance of the pack, led by flank Willem Alberts and lock Juandre Kruger, is at the head of the list, while the defence was also much improved as the Springboks warded off several dangerous attacking forays by the New Zealand backs.
Springbok rugby may well have moved out of the ICU ward on Saturday and, if Meyer can correctly diagnose where the mental deficiencies are, he may well be able to produce pleasing results in Pretoria and Soweto in coming weeks. DM
Photo: New Zealand All Blacks' Israel Dagg runs away from South Africa Springboks players during their Rugby Championship test match in Dunedin September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps