RYAN VREDE writes the Springboks’ chronic struggles at the gainline was ultimately terminal to their cause to defend their title.
Lets get the issue of the perceived bias of referee, Bryce Lawrence, out of the way. This is a man who has heavily punished the Wallabies in the three games he has officiated them at the tournament, awarding 33 penalties to their opponents, and just 18 in their favour.
It is foolish to launch the witch hunt against the New Zealander because, in a game of cause and effect, the Springboks must look to their frequent impotence and lack of basic handling errors (11 in total) at the gainline as the root cause of their defeat in Wellington tonight. 76% territory, 56% possession, Australia making almost three times as many tackles (147 to 53). The Springboks should have won emphatically, instead they will watch the remainder of the tournament play out from home.
They produced one particularly infuriating period between the 26th and 35th minute, conceding three ruck turnovers – five, eight and 10m from the Wallabies’ tryline, as well as butchering a try and coughing up possession in the tackle 10m from goal. In the 59th and 67th minutes David Pocock, allowed greater scope thanks to the absence of Heinrich Brussow (off in the 20th minute) pilfered a ball 5m from his chalk, and a minute later Fourie du Preez – for the second time – spilled the ball .
They must reflect on the aforementioned period with deep regret. Australia had earlier capitalised on their inability to protect the ball in contact, the ball being turned over in the build-up to the 12th minute try. Outside of that the Wallabies offered nothing on attack. They soaked up pressure and scrambled desperately. They live on thanks to the generosity of their opponents.
The Springboks looked formidable, unstoppable even, when they were able to build phases. You wondered how any team would stop them. Then they stopped themselves.
It must be noted that coach Peter de Villiers undermined his own cause with his persistence with John Smit ahead of the dog of war, Bismarck du Plessis. Smit was a tortoise in a china shop until the bull was unleashed to remarkable effect in the 50th minute.
De Villiers’ loyalty to Smit was going to cost him dearly at some stage. This moment wasn’t unpredictable. Du Plessis, like Dan Carter of New Zealand, is a player with the ability to be the difference between victory and defeat. Of the plethora of errors De Villiers has made, he should lament is misplaced loyalty to his captain most deeply.
And so the dream ends. There’ll be a string of references to an ugly win for the Wallabies. I disagree. The Springboks lost ugly tonight.
By Ryan Vrede, at the Wellington Regional Stadium
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