JON CARDINELLI writes the Springboks played with power and purpose but struggled to translate territorial and set-piece dominance into points.
The Boks should have won this match comfortably. They controlled the game in the first half, hammering the Samoans at the set-pieces and ensuring that the majority of the contest took place in opposition territory.
They were helped by the self-destructive play of the islanders, who ran from deep and coughed up possession through handling errors and breakdown turnovers. Unfortunately, the Boks were in no mood to punish their bumbling opponents. The South Africans played an aggressive, tactically-smart game, but their failure to finish made their task harder than it needed to be.
The Bok scrum was in impressive form, with Beast Mtawarira getting the hit on Census Johnston. Victor Matfield looked like a superstar in the early stages as he secured the Bok lineout ball and disrupted the opposition throw. With such a powerful platform to launch, the Boks would have been expected to pile on the points and record another 50-plus score.
Bryan Habana finished well in the ninth minute, and the Boks strode to a 7-0 lead. For much of the first half, their defence did a fine job resisting the Samoan surge, and their tactical kickers booted for territory knowing full well that the wobbly Samoa set-piece would battle to retain possession.
Samoa showed little imagination on attack, moving the ball from side to side without much success. It was a credit to the Bok defence who effected 69 tackles (30 more than Samoa) in the first 40 minutes, but it was equally an indictment on the tactical naivety and impotency of the islanders.
The game changed in the second half, with Samoa producing a more competitive showing at the scrum and lineout, and using that platform to play more direct rugby in terms of deploying their strike runners at the Bok midfield. Suddenly, a 13-0 scoreline didn’t seem as much a cushion as an insufficient gap considering the manner in which the Samoans had upped the ante.
Had the Boks taken their attacking opportunities and maximised their forward dominance in the first half, it may not have been such a close finish. Had they cashed in, they would have broken the spirit of a limited Samoan side in the first half and racked up some big numbers in the second.
But those failings would so nearly cost them the game. George Stowers crashed over in the 51st minute, and suddenly Samoa were finding holes in the previously watertight Bok defence. The Samoa scrum was standing its ground, the islanders were enjoying more territory and possession, and not for the first time in this tournament, the Boks’ scramble defence was called on to save the day.
The Boks would have won comfortably had they finished better in the first half. Their inability to do so will have their quarter-final opponents, the Wallabies, taking note.
Against a top team you need to make your attacking opportunities count, and once again this Bok side, through a lack of attacking synergy and patience, left a number of points on the park. Tactically, they looked like potential champions, but champions translate opportunities into points.
There’s is still much to rectify before next Sunday’s showdown in Wellington.