Boks fire then fade

RYAN VREDE watched the Springboks capitulate in the second half in a 14-9 defeat to the Wallabies at Kings Park.

Don’t buy Springboks coach Peter de Villiers’ rhetoric that this result means nothing in the context of their World Cup defence. If a virtually full-strength Springboks side can’t the Wallabies at home, how the hell will they beat them in a potential final in New Zealand? In fact, on the strength of their second half display they will not progress beyond the quarter-finals. There is much work to be done, and time is not on their side.

They started promisingly enough, but fell apart in the second half, producing an insipid performance marked by fundamental errors, many of them from senior Springboks. There’ll also be question marks around their bench’s impact, Bismarck du Plessis being the only one to galvanise his side. Indeed Du Plessis’ rousing cameo further served to underline the folly in persisting with John Smit, who was moved to tighthead upon his introduction only to folded at scrum time.

Their marked drop-off in intensity, particularly at the gainline on defence, will fuel the criticism of those who hold the view that the senior citizens of this side should have been put to pasture two years ago. For a group who’ve been on a conditioning camp for two months, their inability to last the distance is utterly unacceptable.

But it all looked so encouraging for the first 40. There was little razzle-dazzle from the Springboks, but they were physical, composed, disciplined and intelligent, all attributes lacking after the turnaround.

Their build-up play rarely lacked punch at the tackle point – Beast Mtawarira and Pierre Spies prominent in this regard. Neither did it lack patience and sharp decision-making, with the halfback pair of Fourie du Preez and Butch James controlling the flow, tempo and route of attack expertly.

However, handling errors at crucial times – the most out frustrating coming from Jaque Fourie in the 13th minute with an overlap on the outside – meant they never converted considerable pressure into meaningful points.

Still, they were never under pressure in the first half thanks in large part to their defence. They were often dominant at the gainline and in times where they slipped hits they scrambled well. Quade Cooper’s influence was minimal as a result of playing behind a pack that was second best in general and set play, but the mercurial flyhalf would become increasingly influential as the Springboks’ challenge faded.

Frans Steyn landed a 40m penalty before James added another three, but the latter also did himself no favours by missing a simple penalty and scuffing a drop goal dead in front of he posts. It goes without saying that those six points were crucial in the final analysis.

The Springboks led 6-0 at the break, but the warning signs were there early when the Wallabies scored a penalty and try in a 10 minute period, Pat McCabe rounding off a move where the Springboks’ forwards were matched against backs.

James banked a penalty but James O’Connor wrested back the lead soon thereafter, taking his side 11-9 ahead going into the final quarter. The heavens opened as the game drifted into its closing stages, demanding concerted concentration when handling. The Wallabies reacted better in this regard, while the Springboks resembled a bunch of schoolboys trying to catch a bar of soap.

Their desperation grew with every grassed ball and they ultimately surrendered meekly, never threatening to achieve a win they wouldn’t have deserved, but one that would have been invaluable for their confidence.

The prospect of facing an All Blacks team without a fear of failure is now a daunting one. Their confidence would have been fractured by this result, and the Blacks could will cause irreparable damage in Port Elizabeth next week.

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