JON CARDINELLI writes a marked improvement at the gain line and in their kicking game allowed the Springboks to bounce back in the second half and ultimately steal another win in Dublin.
JP Pietersen couldn’t have picked a less opportune moment to impede.
The Boks were trailing by nine points with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half. All the momentum was with the Irish at that instant, and had the hosts managed to cash in during that period of numerical advantage, the Boks may not have been able to recover in the second stanza.
But recover they did. First they survived the period of sanction without conceding a single point. Then they punished the hosts when Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip was sin-binned to the tune of 10 points, a purple patch of scoring that allowed them to take the lead as well as the initiative.
These were game-shaping moments, and the Boks played them best.
The question is how? How exactly did the Boks hit back? And how does the success of the second half put the nightmare of the first into perspective?
The Boks battled to get into the game during the first half. Their kicking game was off point and their physicality at the gain line was woefully below par.
For whatever reason, they opted to counter-attack on several occasions from deep within their own territory. They also called for complicated set-piece moves despite the fact that they were fielding an inexperienced backline combination.
These are decisions that played into the hands of a depleted, yet well-prepared, Ireland unit.
The Irish have been playing under the new ‘crouch-touch-set’ scrum calls since the beginning of the European season, and this showed as they enjoyed success at the scrums during the early stages.
They also displayed a greater appreciation for Englishman Wayne Barnes’ refereeing style at the breakdown.
The hosts had all the forward momentum in the first half, and because the South Africans kicked poorly out of hand, Ireland were dominating the forward exchanges from inside the Boks’ territory.
To sum it up, the Boks were putting themselves under pressure during that period, and the Irish were building on that.
But the lack of class and experience within this Ireland side was patent if you consider that they didn’t make the Boks pay when Pietersen was sidelined. They also struggled for answers when the Boks went back to a more traditional approach in the second half.
Captain Jean de Villiers should be commended for backing his lineout early in the second period. On three occasions, he turned down a shot at goal, preferring to build some pressure from the lineout and push for a try.
This set piece proved a source of great go-forward for the Boks. The rolling maul was nigh-on unstoppable, and created some point-scoring opportunities as a crucial juncture in the game.
The Boks also tightened up around the park, building through the phases and then showing more precision in terms of their kicking game. They pressured the Irish with some accurate, high-hanging kicks, and managed to win the ball back on several occasions.
Francois Louw was a standout in what was a disappointing first half, and led the breakdown charge once again in the second stanza. The Boks affected some important turnovers in this area, and all-in-all their defence at the rucks was nothing short of outstanding during the final 40 minutes.
So what does it all mean? The Boks must stick to their strengths.
They cannot hope to beat heavyweight teams without first dominating the forward exchanges and then winning the battle for territory.
If they attempt to run every ball from deep within their half, they are going to place themselves under pressure; they are going to give the opposition point-scoring chances.
In the first half, their approach was too high risk and there was no reward. On the contrary, the Boks high-risk approach backfired badly.
The second half was more controlled, clinical, and disciplined. That has to be the norm from hereon in.
Once the platform has been laid, then there will be opportunities to try something out of the box in terms of attack. But not before.
The Boks won in Dublin on Saturday, but hopefully they’ve learned their lesson.