If the Springboks are to be taken seriously at next year’s World Cup, then they have to add ambition to their game plan.
The Boks won in Port Elizabeth, easily enough, despite not playing well and not applying their minds to the basics as they had done so splendidly a week ago in Durban.
Scotland were never going to win the test because they lacked the class and the know how. They were brave, as you expect from the Scots, but they were limited and whereas the Bok pack represented a cannon, the Scottish equivalent was a rifle. It was never going to be a contest and complacency did get the better of the Boks. They lacked concentration, floated passes to each other without concern for the consequence of the pass and played an ‘off the cuff’ kind of game.
When will these Boks learn that they are to rugby what Germany is to football and the All Blacks are to rugby what Brazil are to football. It seems never.
The Boks cannot play like the All Blacks because the natural footballing skill is not there. Then again the All Black forwards cannot destroy a pack like the Boks because they simply don’t have the size. Two different styles. Both very successful over the last hundred years.
In Durban the Boks employed these strengths brilliantly. The forwards worked hard, much of it because of the caning the Boks had received post the unimpressive 30-27 win against the World XV. There was no let-up for an hour and the only stutter came when coach Jake White turned to the bench for fresh legs.
In Port Elizabeth it was again the curse of complacency that compounded a mediocre Bok performance. Every Bok player knew he could play badly and still leave victorious. It was pretty much the case. I thought the Bok coach was being kind to the Scots when he said they had worked a counter to the Boks lineout. It was a way of deflecting the lack of concentration from his own team. The wayward throws were inexcusable, as were the lazy tap downs.
Victor Matfield is the best lineout exponent in the world. He has no equal when it comes to contesting and he should never be in trouble on his own lineout ball. He needs to make use of himself more when calling the lineouts. Yes, the Boks looked for variation, but Matfield is a banker ball. When the variation calls started to produce wobbly results, Matfield should have taken on more responsibility. He should have shown greater ambition to call the shots. The best in the world do this kind of thing.
Matfield is one example of many, who failed their own world standing in Port Elizabeth. Collectively the Boks have to take responsibility for the unconvincing nature of the victory. They veered from their success formula in Durban (heaven knows why) and the mindset that ‘a win is a win’ is not good enough from a team so talented and so dominant in the first test.
Three years ago South Africans would have taken any win, but this team demands more ambition from its followers and its followers demand more ambition from this team.
They are unbeaten in South Africa since 2003, with the 30-all draw in Durban last year the only blemish in White’s home run.
They are better than the performance they produced in Port Elizabeth and they are talented enough to have backed themselves to go for tries at 23-15 and not two sitter penalties. The decision to take a penalty to take it to 26-15 cannot be justified. The Bok pack was dominant. They forced a penalty five metres from the Scottish line, just to the right of the posts. They had a big openside to play with from the scrum. Take the scrum, attack the openside and score, as Fourie du Preez did earlier in the game.
The same was applicable from the last penalty. Kick it to the corner. Demand a clean take from Matfield and company, set up the drive and finish the game on a dominant note.
The lack of ambition is something we’ve seen from the Boks when they haven’t managed to dominate opponents up front. I think of Paris last year, Twickenham two years ago and Dublin on that same tour. The Boks went into their shells on those days and did not back their formula.
If White’s Boks want to consistently be number two in the world then Saturday’s ‘a win is a win’ is good enough. But if they have aspirations of being number one and of being good enough to win a quarter-final, semi-final and a final in Paris next year, then they have to be more ambitious in their on-field decision-making. They have to back themselves to score tries.
And they have to be honest is declaring that what they produced in Port Elizabeth was simply not good enough.