Morne Steyn scored all the Springboks’ points in their 31-19 hammering of the All Blacks at King’s Park. But don’t be mistaken, this was a fantastic collective effort.
The flyhalf’s efforts set a new record for points scored by an individual player in the Tri-Nations. He deserves all the plaudits he’ll get, but will do well to deflect praise to his team-mates, who were unbelievably good in their execution of a very effective game plan.
Add to that that they played with 14 men for 20 minutes of the contest, and you realise how good an effort this was.
Tactically the Springboks were superb, and credit here must go to coach Peter de Villiers and his assistants, who seemed to have cottoned on to a winning formula, and stuck with it.
That formula is not complicated by any stretch of the imagination, and stresses low-risk rugby that relies heavily on the boot of their halfback pair, a committed kick chase or pressure at the lineout. Accuracy in execution, especially against a devastatingly good counter-attacking unit like the Blacks, is central to it’s success, and the duo of Morne Steyn and Fourie du Preez, and to a lesser extent fullback Frans Steyn, were excellent in this regard.
They pinned the Blacks in their half, or had them fielding grenades all evening, and for the most part the visitors exploded under the pressure.
The Springboks’ defensive effort must not be overlooked either. They slipped up with New Zealand’s first try, but were brutal at the collision points thereafter, making it difficult for the Blacks to get the quick recycle they rely so heavily on.
It was intelligent rugby that maximised their strengths. In fact, it was the Blacks who were uncharacteristically naive in their tactics, tossing the pill around aimlessly in their 22 at times, and looking to hit the Springboks in the wide channels without earning the right to play that brand by doing the hard yards up front. In addition, their ill-discipline at the breakdown in particular cost dearly them yet again.
When De Villiers took over the Springboks two years ago he spoke of evolving their play to resemble something like that of the Blacks. On the evidence of tonight, not everything that glitters is black.
When rain started to fall 34 minutes into the first half, greasing the pitch and the ball, that cavalier approach was always going to come under the spotlight. Yet they persisted and paid the ultimate price for their arrogance.
The fact that they scored early with an expansive move, after Stephen Donald and Morne Steyn had exchanged penalties, was probably a negative from the perspective of giving them false validation of the approach.
Some would say the try was vintage Blacks, but the Springboks will feel disappointed in their attempts to blunt a move that started from a quick lineout on the Blacks’ 5m line. Conrad Smith and Richie McCaw were prominent in the build up, but Isaac Ross, sprinting down the touchline, exposed an unguarded blindside to finish the move.
Donald converted, then traded a couple of penalties with Morne Steyn to take the score to 13-9. The last of those penalties came subsequent to the sin-binning of JP Pietersen for a high tackle, but the numbers advantage was short lived, as Ross too got his marching orders for a ruck infringement.
The Springboks capitalised, Morne Steyn sinking the resultant penalty, then adding to his tally with a try after Du Preez had snatched a ball that spat out of a defensive scrum on the Black 5m line and sent the ball to the pivot, who stepped the covering defender to score.
Frans Steyn’s decision to kick the ball infield after the half-time siren had sounded was vindicated when it culminated in a penalty to the Springboks. Morne Steyn made no mistake and gave his side a commanding 22-13 lead at the break.
The Blacks continued in their ambitious ways after half-time, but still looked a side too heavily reliant on individual brilliance than they did on a team effort. This despite again being handed an advantage when Bakkie Botha was binned in the 51st minute.
Yes there were moments that excited – winger Sitiveni Sivivatu being responsible for the majority of those – but you always sensed the Springboks would have to capitulate badly to come unstuck against that approach.
They didn’t, and kept their composure under pressure, as they have when their mettle was tested recently. Experience. It’s priceless.
It’s probably criminal that the colossal efforts of Beast Mtawarira, John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis and Heinrich Brussow, amongst others, are not expounded upon more in this report. But this was a superb effort from a very, very good team, and needs to be celebrated as such.
Whether the knowledge that they should have beaten the Blacks by a more significant margin brings them more or less comfort is unknown. But they’ll take the victory, and now surely have instilled themselves as firm favourites to win the Tri-Nations title.
By Ryan Vrede, at King’s Park