Awful attack kills Bok momentum

JON CARDINELLI writes the Springboks’ poor finishing and option-taking undermined what was a powerful and purposeful showing by the forwards.

Most will lament a shocking goal-kicking performance that saw the Boks miss five penalty attempts in the first half alone. The roof sheltered the Forsyth Barr Stadium from the raging wind and rain and still Morné Steyn and Frans Steyn couldn’t translate the Boks’ forward dominance into points.

The All Blacks went to the break with an undeserved 5-3 lead. Through the wayward kicking of the Steyns, the Boks had left 15 points on the park. The visitors were also guilty of blowing two try-scoring chances. This served to show how dire and in need of attention their attacking game really is.

Morné Steyn has come in for some scathing criticism in recent weeks, and deservedly so. It is not good enough that a goal-kicker of his quality and experience delivers a return of less than 80%, let alone 50% and below. It has cost the Boks in recent matches, and undoubtedly cost them again in Dunedin.

But it is not the only department in which Steyn has under-delivered.

Not much was expected of an inexperienced Bok pack, and in the event that they failed to front in Dunedin, the backs would have been forgiven for a limp attacking showing.

As it transpired, the Boks rocked up in a determined mood, and their heavies out-muscled the All Blacks at the collisions and breakdowns. In this scenario, more would have been expected from the backs. They should have converted those two early opportunities. Steyn and his backline could have done far more considering the platform they enjoyed.

The finishing was atrocious, but so to was the option-taking in that pivotal No 10 position. Steyn took the ball so deep that he allowed the opposition defence time to charge up and negate the Boks’ attacking space. He failed to fix his defender, and crabbed across field, which further cramped and inhibited his team-mates on the outside. It may have a lot to do with his flagging confidence, but Steyn has shown himself to be a shoveller rather than a distributor.

The All Blacks should be thankful that it was Steyn who received the ball early in the first half when the hosts were back-pedalling in their own 22. Steyn picked up a pass on the bounce and barely took a step forward before shovelling the ball on to Zane Kirchner. Kirchner in turn threw a poor pass to Bryan Habana, who then knocked the ball on.

It was a clear example of poor finishing, but you have to look at how Steyn negated the attacking space and allowed the All Blacks defence time to scramble back.

There were too many examples of lateral movement, and the result was often a turnover. Jean de Villiers threw a pass that went straight into touch. Several players received possession in the outside channels and seemed unsure of how to proceed.

Again, these mistakes were made more frustrating by the fact that the Boks were enjoying such tremendous success up front. It was unforgivable that that dominance wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard.

The breakthrough arrived in the 49th minute where Habana produced a piece of individual brilliance. The Bok winger broke the line, chipped the defence, and showed the necessary speed and skill to collect his kick and score.

It was a moment to savour, but again it was an individual snipe rather than an example of collective attacking synergy.

The All Blacks had very few attacking opportunities by comparison. There was an instant in the first half where they produced the most spellbinding display, forwards and backs offloading in the tackle and Israel Dagg rocketing away to score a fantastic try.

Aaron Cruden missed the ensuing conversion, but when he had another opportunity in the 52nd minute, he made it count. That penalty saw the All Blacks draw level with Boks at 8-8.

The Boks continued to dominate at the point of contact, and this continued to force the All Blacks into errors. But the Blacks’ blunders could not compare to those of the Boks.

The visiting pack would smash the New Zealanders back, but then Steyn or Ruan Pienaar would overplay the kick-chase tactic. It was poor option-taking that would cost the Boks another potential try on the hour when Steyn received the ball flat and then changed direction to kick for the corner. The men out to his left, unmarked an in space, went unused and the opportunity went begging.

Steyn was replaced by Johan Goosen shortly after that, and the difference to the Boks’ attack was immediate. Goosen received the ball in almost the exact same position and ran the ball, the result being a Frans Steyn linebreak.

If only Goosen had enjoyed more of an opportunity to run at the All Blacks defence. He was only introduced in the 60th minute, and when Dean Greyling’s brain explosion led to a yellow card in the 63rd minute, Goosen was robbed of the forward platform needed to work his magic.

There can be no more denial, no more defence of Morné Steyn and the Boks’ attacking game. Goosen must be entrusted with the starting responsibilities from hereon in, and the Boks’ attacking option-taking and finishing must be given the attention it so clearly needs.

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