RYAN VREDE watched Samoa give the Springboks a reality check despite going down 13-5 at the North Habour Stadium.
The Springboks’ showings in the last fortnight has seen even some usually astute commentators divorce from their senses to join the unadulterated celebration of the team. Tonight was a jolt of note for the defending champions, who would have been beaten by a more refined opponent, so impotent were they on attack (zero linebreaks) and porous on defence (they missed 27 tackles, in line with their average of 26 per match).
They undoubtedly benefited from Samoa’s early tactical naivety. So much for the structured Samoa that could have beaten the Springboks had they not relied on misplaced enterprise – running from deep in their territory – as much as they did. It was a nonsensical tactic to employ, particularly since they looked more than capable of mixing it in the heavies and establishing a better attacking platform on the rare occasion they chose to.
The islanders were denied despite long passages of play in possession in the first half, then undermined their cause in the second half with a string of handling errors, laboured decision-making and poor discipline, the worst example coming from Paul Williams who was red carded at a crucial juncture for shoving Heinrich Brussow in the face.
The numbers were evened out a minute later when John Smit was binned for what was adjudged to be a deliberate knock down with 10 minutes to play. But Samoa never possessed the killer blow. Their effectiveness rode on hope of defensive lapses, when more certainty and purpose would have served them better. Indeed they played like rave music was pounding in their minds, when they should have tuned in to a station that promoted greater composure.
The Springboks will testify to the ferocity and bone-melting qualities of a Samoan tackle and the islanders were rarely asked any telling questions. The Springboks’ opening try was birthed by multiple phases setting up a centre-field ruck before the ball snapped left to Bryan Habana. Morne Steyn converted, before Frans Steyn reminded of the Springboks’ unique trump card by banking a 58m penalty.
Morne Steyn kicked another just before the break, but the 13-0 scoreline going down the tunnel spoke to attacking impotency against competent and combative defensive units which is deeply concerning. The sterile, uninspiring fare they served up on attack tonight won’t see them progress beyond the quarter-final in Wellington next week.
Samoa burst into life in the second half, dominating possession and territory. The Springboks’ much-vaunted structure capitulated and they were reduced to a bumbling mess in the face of incessant attack. George Stowers, immense on the night, crossed for a try which Tusi Pisi crucially failed to convert.
You sensed the Springboks were on the ropes, and they will speak of their character in denying their opponents, but the reality is so much different. They were tested to their limit by a side they have consistently thumped by an average of 50 points.
This Springboks side is a pretender to the one that captured the title four years ago. Their journey continues, but surely not for much longer.
By Ryan Vrede, at the North Habour Stadium.
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