Bok attack bristles but killer edge missing

RYAN VREDE writes the Springboks’ attack showed significant signs of improvement, but still lacks a clinical dimension.

There needs to be some perspective when assessing their performance in this facet of play. Fiji aren’t renowned for their defensive organisation and certainly not a side you should seriously measure your attacking prowess against.

However, it would be remiss not to note progression from the defending champions. Building pressure by retaining the ball through multiple phases was the focus in training after they failed to impress in this department against Wales a week ago and the fruits of that work was evident.

The Springboks’ strike runners carried powerfully, and there appeared to be a greater sense of intensity and synergy from their cleaners, which ensured a steady supply of quick ball. Fiji consistently attempted to spoil, and gained some reward. A better side would have asked more testing questions, especially when the Springboks got loose. A clean ruck recycle is more important to their success than most, given of the dearth of game breakers capable of unlocking set defensive lines (the All Blacks and Wallabies trump them in this regard).

There were a number of individuals that reminded of their class. Frans Steyn’s physicality, craft and intelligence on attack was encouraging. A season playing consistently in midfield for Racing Metro has clearly been beneficial. JP Pietersen’s rise from a period of slumber is reason to smile. The winger looked like he was invested in the match, which has not been the case for some time. This showing was a throwback to his best form. I was critical of him in the build-up to this Test. Tonight I’ll celebrate because he did his talent justice. Schalk Burger is surely possessed by the spirit of a Spartan, Heinrich Brussow is an evermore irrepressible force and Danie Rossouw again confirmed that he is a national treasure.

But this was a collective effort. The Springboks’ first second and fourth and sixth tries underlined what they are capable of when they treasure possession and brutally erode their opponent’s resolve. The third was a piece of brilliance from Brussow that suggested his prodigious skill knows no bounds.

However, they benefited from Fiji’s defensive apathy late in the piece, and the scoreline should have been more emphatic. They squandered a plethora of scoring opportunities through poor decision making, fundamental handling errors or the aforementioned failure to consistently blunt a unsophisticated but rabid breakdown contest.

The Springboks’ coaches would have been quietly confident of victory but would also have placed a premium on how clinical they were in achieving that victory. They will rightly take heart from the number of chances engineered but will hope that the attack refines itself in the coming weeks. Given their impressive defensive solidity, the Springboks’ challenge will be significantly amplified is this does happen.

By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.

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