JON CARDINELLI says that a second-half dip in intensity and accuracy contributed to another gutting Springbok defeat.
Many were all but hailing a famous Bok victory at half-time, as the hosts had produced an unpolished but spirited display. The decision to appoint Jacques Nienaber as the defensive consultant was vindicated as the Boks were much improved when it came to one-on-one or system defence, and more than anything the players displayed an aggressive attitude that complemented their accuracy at the tackle.
Heinrich Brussow had the desired impact at the breakdown, as apart from a crucial turnover inside his own 22 he hassled the Wallabies at the ruck and ensured the opposition halfbacks received slow ball. Brussow was substituted in the 50th minute, and this undoubtedly helped the Wallabies’ attacking cause.
Fourie du Preez was excellent early on, and his clever tactical kicks were well chased by Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen. The spot tackles by men like Habana, Butch James and Jean de Villiers highlighted the Boks’ desire to make a defensive statement, but unfortunately it was an effort they failed to maintain for the full 80 minutes.
While the first-half defensive performance was encouraging, the Boks squandered several attacking opportunities. Many of these opportunities were created by excellent defensive pressure, such as the instant where Du Preez kicked in behind the Wallabies’ defence and Jaque Fourie put pressure on a flailing Quade Cooper. The TMO ruled that Fourie had knocked the ball on before grounding it, and it was a massive let off for the visitors. If the Boks had added a converted try to their tally at that point, the final result may have been different.
But the Boks’ lack of match fitness became increasingly apparent as the game wore on. The Wallabies, who have been playing together since the start of the Tri-Nations, came into their own, and David Pocock effected some momentum-killing turnovers when the Bok heavies failed to display the necessary intensity and accuracy at the ruck. The kicks in behind the Wallabies defence were also poorly chased in the second stanza, and so the dangerous Wallabies back three had more space to counter-attack.
What also contributed to the Boks’ lack of momentum in the second half was the ludicrous player-management of coach Peter de Villiers. The Bok scrum produced a powerful showing initially and No 8 Pierre Spies took full advantage of this platform with some bulldozing runs. But when John Smit was shifted to prop in the second half, the Bok set-piece went backwards. The lineout also struggled as the weather worsened later in the game.
The Boks have a lot to rectify before next week’s Test in Port Elizabeth. They need to win a game (they’ve lost all of their Tests in 2011) before they go to the World Cup, but to do so they will need to produce a far more consistent showing on both defence and attack.