RYAN VREDE, writing from Wellington, watched the Springboks produce an insipid performance in beating Wales 17-16.
Eight minutes. That was the extent of the Springboks’ attacking threat in this match. Outside of two tries – the first beautifully worked through multiple phases phase play which set the platform then snapped right to Frans Steyn, and the second equally good in its execution – the Springboks offered absolutely nothing to inspire. Wales’ discipline, their downfall against the Springboks in recent meetings was excellent, robbing them of their primary means of point accumulation – Morne Steyn’s boot.
The best feature of this Springbok performance was undoubtedly the defensive effort of the collective for the first 50 minutes. Brutal, organised and accurate it looked a carbon copy of the system the Stormers have employed so effectively in Super Rugby in recent years, which was coach Peter de Villiers’ the desired outcome when he hired coach Jaques Nienaber. Discipline is central to the Cape side’s success and the Boks’ shortcomings in this regard gifted Wales points – James Hook kicking two first half penalties to leave his team trailing 10-6 at half time. Crucially he missed two others, while Rhys Priestland sent a drop-goal sailing wide from dead in front of the posts late in the piece. It could have and should have ended so differently for Wales.
The Springboks’ defensive effort wouldn’t last – Toby Faletau crossing for a try in the 53rd minute. The solidity that had marked the period preceding that eroded as their desperation for a win against an inferior team man-for-man, but one that on this evening exploited the plethora of shortcomings the Springboks exhibited, most notably their inability to retain possession and build pressure. In this regard mention must be made of Wales’ excellent captain and openside flank Sam Warburton, who tormented the Springboks at the breakdown.
He would have hoped for a win to cap his outstanding showing, but would be denied by a late Francois Hougaard try and his kickers’ inaccuracy. Bismarck du Plessis played no small part in this win. With two turnovers – one in his 22m and another that sealed the result – as well as monstrous defence – Du Plessis further advanced his cause for starting ahead of the ponderous and anonymous John Smit That drum needs to continue to be beaten furiously. Smit is finished.
It would be remiss not to highlight Heinrich Brussow’s role in their early defensive success. The opensider was irrepressible, omnipotent and intelligent – a lethal trifecta that combined to seriously undermine Wales’ attacking intentions. When the Dragons huffed and puffed it was often Brussow who quelled them. He is an invaluable asset to the defending champions.
Their missed kicks aside, Wales never had the tactical variation, individual brilliance or belief that comes from experience of winning in those positions that was required to burn the Springboks. Their losing streak against the Springboks extends to 13, but they will wonder how on earth it has.
The Springboks have serious problems. Morne Steyn is a liability at flyhalf. Sitting deep in the pocket he asked no telling questions of the defensive line and diluted any potency in back division. He was also a target for Wales’ striked runners, particularly Jamie Roberts. Fourie du Preez, their fulcrum, looked a shadow of the player who ruled this tournament in France and has for the last two Tests. Add to that injuries to Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, both replaced in the first half, and the concerns deepen.
They qualify for the quarter-final stage and probably progress by beating Ireland. That is the base expectation. However, on the evidence of this performance, that is where this journey will end unless exponential improvements are made.
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