JON CARDINELLI reports on the Springboks’ 49-3 bonus-point victory against Fiji in Wellington on Saturday.
The game was billed as a clash of styles, but for the first 20 minutes, Fiji was the more brutal side at the collisions. Bok defenders bounced off their robust runners, and if not for another fine effort by the scrambling defence or the islanders’ tendency to drop the ball after multiple phases, Fiji may have established a healthy lead inside the first quarter.
Their forwards stepped liked backs and their backs embraced contact like forwards. The Bok defence did their level best to stifle the Fijians’ momentum by advancing quickly, and for large periods of the game they were successful. But while they kept Fiji tryless, they slipped too many tackles and allowed Fiji terrific momentum. Their failure to control possession, an area they had worked on extensively in the build up, also forced them to spend too much time on defence.
In spite of the individual and tactical errors, they manage to absorb the early pressure. Frans Steyn landed a 57m penalty goal in the 12th minute, and gave the Boks significant go-forward when afforded the chance to run in midfield. The Bok scrum dominated an outclassed Fijian pack, and Pierre Spies used this platform to good effect, driving the South Africans beyond the gain line.
There were a number of Boks that stood out in a ball-carrying capacity. While he missed several first-time tackles, Danie Rossouw excelled in the No 5 position, delivering a ball-in-hand showing that was both brutal and penetrative. JP Pietersen was more imposing and took some good decisions from the back, and playing behind an advancing pack, Morne Steyn also contributed by taking the ball flat and bringing the backs into the game.
Jaque Fourie continued where he left off last week, producing another fine defensive effort and cutting the Fijian defence with those gliding runs. He once again showcased his finishing ability when he rounded off a good counter-attack in the 34th minute.
The opportunity was created when the Fijians failed to collect a high ball, and Jannie du Plessis seized the initiative by scooping the spoils and rumbling forward. The ball flew wide to Fourie, who managed to beat the cover defence.
Fiji continued to pressure the Boks without any reward, and would go to the shed 21-3 down. When they played themselves into try-scoring positions in the second half, they spilled the ball in contact or conceded possession through a breakdown turnover or forward pass. The Bok defence still missed tackles, but again the cover got back to snuff out the Fijian attack.
It was another kick that would spark the Boks’ third try. Rossouw broke the line and the ball recycled quickly to Heinrich Brussow, and the opensider showed his versatility by chipping over the Fijian defence. Frans Steyn collected the ball on the bounce and powered over the line to score the try that would take the Boks to a commanding 26-3 lead.
Morne Steyn got on the scoresheet moments later, followed by Beast Mtawarira. Fittingly, Rossouw blasted through the demoralised Fijian defence in the dying minutes for a well-earned try.
Stats like six tries for and zero against will please the Bok coaching staff, but there must be some perspective. The Fijians blew multiple scoring chances, battled under the high ball and were no match for the South Africans at the set-piece.
The Boks may have scored more tries had they been more clinical, and the fact that they’re still conceding ground in the No 10 channel and missing so many first-time tackles on defence must be addressed before they meet a top-ranked side in the play-offs.
They racked up some big numbers today, but they mustn’t kid themselves into believing that they’re the finished article.