Cup hopefuls floored by collective failings

JON CARDINELLI says the Springboks’ World Cup players won’t gain anything from the coming Test unless there’s better teamwork at the breakdown.

Most expected a defeat in Sydney, and another hiding is on the cards when Peter de Villiers’s dirt-trackers cross the Tasman to face the All Blacks. Defeat is expected, but there’s still something to play for in the context of the World Cup.

Several individuals would have targeted this tour as a final opportunity to impress the Bok selectors, who will name their 30-man squad at the conclusion of the Tri-Nations. Some did themselves no favours with a shocking individual showing in Sydney, while others were limited by the collective failure of the Bok pack.

The scrum wobbled and the lineout was a far cry from the imposing set-piece we’ve come to expect. From those shaky platforms, the Boks battled to build an attack, but that’s not to say that set-piece mediocrity was completely to blame for an amateurish and inferior performance at the tackle.

The Boks conceded six penalties and as many as eight turnovers at the breakdown. They were often hit back in contact by the determined Wallabies forwards, whose physical attitude was complemented by excellent decision making. Whether they employed the counter-ruck tactic or settled for slowing down the Boks’ ruck recycle, they were effective in denying the Boks go-forward ball.

The Bok tight five was disappointing but again the back row must shoulder some of the blame for the lacklustre collective showing. Danie Rossouw featured with some promising runs, but was often isolated when his team-mates failed to beat the Wallabies to the breakdown. Ashley Johnson was sluggish and didn’t offer the physicality of a typical Test player, and Deon Stegmann continues to offer up ammunition for critics who view him as a liability rather than an asset.

The Boks were fortunate not to concede 50 points to the Wallabies. Given the All Blacks’ trademark physicality and expertise at the breakdown, you’d expect the New Zealanders to inflict similar damage this coming Saturday, even if they will be missing Brad Thorn, Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Keven Mealamu. The Boks’ growing injury list will also work in the All Blacks’ favour.

It won’t help that Flip van der Merwe’s injury will force De Villiers to reshuffle his pack ahead of the All Blacks Test. Moving their best back-row exponent in Rossouw to lock will rob them of a powerful ball-carrier, but De Villiers doesn’t have many other options.

The uncapped Gerhard Mostert has just arrived in Australasia, and so starting him in the second row would would be a mistake, even if he plays alongside his Sharks team-mate Alistair Hargreaves. As Johnson found out last week, Test rugby is a massive step up.

The Boks will lose in Wellington this Saturday, and there will be few positives to take from the performance in the context of the World Cup. Much would have been expected of forwards like Rossouw and John Smit on this tour, but the lack of cohesion, which has as much to do with poor selection and coaching as it does with poor individual showings by team-mates, has robbed them of an opportunity to build momentum ahead of the tournament that matters.

Follow JC on Twitter

Follow SA Rugby on Twitter