Wallabies whack woeful Boks
24 Jul 2010
RYAN VREDE reports on the Springboks’ dismal showing in their 30-13 defeat to Australia in Brisbane.
It wasn’t a 49-0 drubbing, but the comparisons between the nightmarish 2006 Tri-Nations campaign are now unavoidable. No matter what the Springboks say, and rest assured that there’ll be plenty of rhetoric aimed at convincing the South African rugby fraternity of their belief in their ability, those words will be as unconvincing as their performance this evening. The Springboks are a spent force, and the month-long break they have is merciful for them and their supporters.
Two yellow cards, Jaque Fourie’s warranted and BJ Botha’s ludicrous, either side of half-time, certainly undermined their challenge. But it cannot be pointed to as the primary reason for the defeat.
The Springboks reminded one of a old car, worked on furiously by a back yard mechanic to remedy a persistent problem, only for a fault to develop elsewhere. Tonight their defensive display was slightly improved, but they lacked discipline at the ruck on defence and gave the pedantic referee George Clancy every opportunity to penalise them.
Matt Giteau had packed his kicking boots, this after he produced a series of indifferent performances in that regard during their June internationals, and duly kept the score board ticking over. When lady luck is pissed at you, everything seems to go the way of the opposition.
There was a patent effort to kick less and more accurately from the Springboks, but the latter goal was never achieved, with opportunities to counter turned down in favour of possession surrendering punts. It was an ugly hybrid of an overly pragmatic and dreadfully ineffective expansive game plan.
Their wide forays were often lateral and frequently cost them possession when the carrier was isolated, with the Wallabies seldom missing an opportunity to turn over or slow possession. When the ball was recycled they were resolute at the tackle point and rarely allowed a Springbok to break the gain line. This was terminal to the visitors’ attacking ambitions.
The Springboks were never able to replicate their opponents’ stifling ability at the breakdown – they just never were as physical a force at the tackle or in their counter-rucking – and the decision to omit a specialist fetcher now looks every bit the tactical blunder it appeared to be when the team was announced.
In possession the Wallabies played with width and pace, and controlled the ball well through numerous phases. Credit to them for their execution of a game plan that was predictable. Rocky Elsom was an ever-present force, while Will Genia continues to grow in stature as a Test scrumhalf. But make no mistake, this was a cohesive, physical and largely clinical effort from the collective.
The Springboks will lament butchering good scoring opportunities in the first half, twice turning over possession on the Wallabies’ 5m line. It would have had them firmly in the contest at the break, instead they trialed 17-3, Giteau sinking four penalties and Drew Mitchell producing a moment of sublime skill to control the ball on his fingertips before touching down just before half-time.
This left the Springboks desperately needing to score first to haul themselves off the canvas. Instead it was the Wallabies who struck a double blow, Giteau banking another three and James O’Connor capitalising on the penalty that saw Botha sin-binned. The 20-point lead was never going to be overturned, especially with 14 men for 10 of the 34 minutes that remained.
Quade Cooper was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle in the 53rd minute and that signalled a lift in tempo for the Springboks, who, galvanised by the introduction of some youngsters off the wood, scored twice in the closing stages after some precise phase play. However, Ruan Pienaar, who was a mix of good and decidedly ordinary at scrumhalf, missed both conversion attempts. Had he sunk those it would have put the Springboks in line to win the Test with a converted try. Instead Will Genia sealed the result shortly before the siren.
The defeat ends any hope of them defending their Tri-Nations title. Expect an improved showing on home soil, but that will simply plaster over the massive cracks that have appeared in a previously granitic wall.
Surely it is time to rest the under-performing, physically fatigued and mentally battered senior players and invest in the bucks on the fringe of the squad. A bigger picture needs to be seen, and if the Springboks are to take a side with quality in depth to the World Cup next year, it is essential that those players are tested in the home leg.