Gap widens between Boks and Blacks

RYAN VREDE writes the Springboks regressed dreadfully on attack and defence and they are now even further from their goal of overhauling the All Blacks as the pre-eminent team in the game.

Having watched the Springboks run in six tries against Australia at Loftus, I wrote last week that their defensive showing was far more impressive. I said this because it is the bedrock upon which sustained success against the game’s elite is built.

The Springboks end the Rugby Championship having conceded 10 tries in their six Tests. To put that into context, the Blacks (the best defensive side in the competition) conceded six. The Boks’ defensive effort today was woeful, missing 12 tackles, crucially half of those coming in their own 22m.

For the first try Jaco Taute’s failed touch-finder presented the Blacks with a broken field opportunity, the kind they relish, and they were duly punished. There was criticism of Bryan Habana for the second try, but that criticism should have been of his failure to make the hit, not that he pushed out of line in an attempt to do so. There was a three-man overlap. It was the right decision.

Straight after the restart the Blacks were at it again, Taute this time missing his hit in midfield. The Boks were all at sea for the fourth, made to look like rank amateurs.

If the Boks want to become the force they envision, a start would be that no side should come to South Africa and score four tries. Not even the Blacks.

They can draw confidence that there aren’t terminal flaws in their defensive system. There were soft tries in Dunedin and Perth before this. In this youthful team’s short time together they will have already learned that at this level the margin for error is fine, with victory and defeat potentially resting on a single error. They cannot continue to make these mistakes.

The addition of Francois Louw certainly helped their defensive effort. However, the Springboks didn’t win nearly enough of the gainline battles to amplify Louw’s potency in this area tonight. They started promisingly enough, but a sustained effort is what was required. With elite teams so sophisticated in this discipline, the opportunities created from pressure defence will account for more of their scores than intricately worked moves will.

On attack it was a frustratingly familiar story. There were once again missed opportunities, but not enough to have altered the result.

The Blacks out-thought, out-muscled and out-mongrelled them at the breakdown, never allowing them to get any flow or tempo into their attacking game. The legality of some of those ruck steals or recycle slows was questionable, but Test rugby is often a street fight, and today the Boks brought a plastic baton.

Their brute force in contact will win some games against weaker opponents than the Blacks in the years ahead, but there needs to be a greater coaching focus on intelligence going into the contact area and awareness when in the tackle. This was the standout feature of the Blacks’ attacking play this evening. Where the Boks’ carriers look to steamroll their way through a tackle, the Blacks attack the space either side of a defender so well, allowing them to free their hands and have the option of an offload. The support play for that option is never lacking, and herein lies a valuable lesson for the Boks.

The Blacks are the benchmark for this Bok team and this evening they looked impostors to their throne. The log reflects a 14-point different between the teams, but the gap is much more vast and will continue to grow if the Boks don’t address pressing issues with great urgency.

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