Lineout standards slipping

JON CARDINELLI says the Springbok lineout is not as formidable as it used to be.

Peter de Villiers believes all is well despite the Boks’ 0 from 4 Tri-Nations record. He’s proud of the current standard and says luck is all that’s needed to reverse the Boks’ rotten run.

Some may say the Boks improved their defence after a shocking display Down Under, but limiting the All Blacks to three tries is no cause for celebration. There was plenty of guts, but little composure as the first try was scored before half-time, and the last two shortly before the final whistle.

The list of underachievement goes on. The scrum remains inconsistent, and it worries to see the lineout becoming less a factor against the supposedly inferior All Blacks.

At Soccer City, the Boks won just 71% of their lineouts while the All Blacks secured 88% of their own ball. The stats will confirm that the Wellington Test was the only instance where the Boks had the wood on their opponents. Both the Wallabies and All Blacks enjoyed the advantage in subsequent Tests.

Few would have predicted such an about turn after last year’s showing by South Africa. Led by Victor Matfield, the Boks dominated this set-piece; using it as a launchpad for multiphase attacks. Matfield and his counterparts also contested exceptionally well, and a very poor All Blacks lineout had no answer.

The 2010 Super 14 suggested we’d see more South African dominance in the Tri-Nations. The Bulls and Stormers topped the lineout charts with Bok locks Matfield and Andries Bekker enjoying outstanding seasons. The two South African franchises outplayed every Kiwi team at the lineout, with the Bulls dominating the Crusaders.

Unfortunately, that dominance was never carried through to the Test stage. John Smit, an irreplaceable component in the 2007 World Cup machine, has been wayward since resuming the lineout-feeding responsibilities. Matfield and co haven’t contested as well as they did last year, and when they have secured their own ball, they’ve failed to make the best of this platform.

The Boks should be gutted. The Wallabies are usually the side to worry about in this department, not the All Blacks. Tom Donnelly doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of lineout opponents if you remember that he hails from the Highlanders, a team whose lineout was hammered by the Bulls and Stormers in the Super 14. Brad Thorn is hardly an option.

After an indifferent showing in Australasia, the Boks devoted plenty of time to sharpening their breakdown play. But greater attention should have been paid to the lineout. The All Blacks’ lineout is not as good as it was made out to be, and the Boks missed an opportunity to exploit the Kiwis like they did in 2009.

The Wallabies will have noted the Boks’ flagging form. They turned in a flawless lineout showing in Brisbane, and unlike the Kiwis, had some success against the Bulls and Stormers in the Super 14. The Brumbies and Reds were especially proficient at winning their own ball, while the Force turned in a perfect performance in their fixture against the Bulls.

There’s no reason why the Boks shouldn’t be dominating like they did in 2009. They’ve lost Bakkies Botha to suspension, but with a combination that includes Matfield, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies, they should be besting all comers.

They need to lift their accuracy and utilise this platform as their primary means of attack. Success in this department will go a long way to preventing an embarrassing defeat to Australia on the Highveld.

Follow JC on Twitter

Follow SA Rugby mag on Twitter