Diabolical defence nearly costs Boks big

JON CARDINELLI says the Springboks, particularly Morne Steyn, embarrassed themselves and South Africa with a shocking tackling effort in Wellington.

The Springboks delivered a mixed defensive showing against the All Blacks on 20 August, and were just as inconsistent in their efforts to stonewall the Welsh. There were the standouts, with Schalk Burger and Jaque Fourie blending vision, timing and raw power to flatten the opposition, and then there were the guilty parties that lacked both the necessary grunt and technique, Steyn chief among them.

The Bok defence conceded one try against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth despite leaking as many as 23 linebreaks. Terrific scrambling defence saved them on that occasion, and the cover defence did another sterling job in Wellington. It was the Boks’ ability to get back and smother the Welsh attack that often saved their bacon.

South Africa enjoyed early dominance at the collisions, but lost their way as the game progressed. Wales lacked imagination with ball in hand, but found that when they were patient, the Boks were not impenetrable.

The Dragons enjoyed relative success when they targeted Steyn’s channel, and the flyhalf slipped three tackles in the first half alone. When he did effect a tackle, the Welsh ball-carrier still managed to cross the advantage line. It subsequently took a tremendous amount of work by Steyn’s team-mates to stifle the Wales’ attack.

Heinrich Brussow pinched the ball at the breakdown on several occasions when Wales were in a strong attacking position. There were some momentum-halting hits by Burger and Fourie showcased his supernatural ability to read the play when he shot out of the line, at which point a heavy tackle typically followed.

The injury to Jean de Villiers saw Butch James introduced at an early stage, and the former Bath flyhalf certainly made his presence felt. James launched himself at the Welsh, connecting in two instances to jolt the ball loose. He conceded a penalty in the second half when he mistimed his run, but when Jannie du Plessis did an impression of a revolving door in the very next passage of play, James was the man to deliver a snuffling hit.

The Boks were very fortunate that Wales made so many handling errors. After that initial period in the first half where they conceded the try, they challenged the Boks up front. They controlled possession well but never took the right options consistently. They often made the first break but never finished because the ball-carrier failed to find his support, or kicked the ball away.

After a solid performance, Fourie lapsed to allow Toby Faletau through, and the Wales No 8 added insult to injury when he handed off Steyn for good measure. It was a massive moment in the game as Wales had finally earned some reward for their dominance.

Jamie Roberts steamrolled the hapless Steyn seconds later, and the cover defence only managed to get back in the nick of time. Wales lost the ball forward at the ensuing ruck, and so South Africa had staved the killer blow. Brussow made another positive contribution when he held a Welsh maul up, seemingly on his own, to give the Boks another moment of reprieve.

How important those rare instances of brave defence proved to be. The Boks managed to wrest back the initiative, thanks in no small part to substitutes like Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts. Francois Hougaard scored after the Boks had controlled the ball well, and suddenly the ascendancy was with the Boks.

It will go down as one of the great escapes. The result is huge in the context of the competition, but Peter de Villiers needs to take a lesson from the performance. The Boks’ defence has been susceptible for some time, and many of the problems stem from the incumbent flyhalf’s inability to tackle or prevent the ball-carrier from crossing the gain line.

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