JON CARDINELLI says that while this Springbok side shouldn’t be expected to attack like the All Blacks they shouldn’t be excused for performances devoid of innovation, precision and potency either.
A colleague of mine asked a question in the build-up to the Murrayfield Test, a question that summed up a prevailing expectation: ‘How much will this Bok side need to win by in Edinburgh to get a pass mark?’
The All Blacks had set the bar high with a 51-22 thrashing of Scotland, an astounding attacking display that served to highlight the New Zealanders’ global superiority in breakdown play, vision and execution. It seemed my colleague, and I suspect many South African supporters, would not be content unless the Boks savaged Scotland in a similar manner.
Personally, I had tempered my expectations. I argued that the All Blacks were a world champion side, that they had the players in the forwards to dominate the point of contact as well as ensure a quick ruck recycle, and that their backs had the vision, skill and precision to complement that high-tempo approach.
I believed that this Bok side could not compare, as the absence of nine first-choice players (read Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Andries Bekker, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Fourie du Preez, Johan Goosen, Frans Steyn and Bryan Habana) would limit their collective potency.
And yet, I still expected this present Bok side to convert the majority of their attacking opportunities in a clinical if not spectacular manner. Indeed, if you total the number of times they crossed the gainline on Saturday, and the number of times they worked their way into the opposition 22, the end result should have been far more than just 21 points and two tries, one of which was an intercept.
The Boks scored their first try through a powerful and clinical forward drive. It was a fine way to start the game, and seemed to signify that the Boks were in the mood to execute. Unfortunately, it was the only example of potency.
There are numerous examples of individual players bashing their way beyond the gainline, or in a few cases, using their feet to beat one or two defenders. Unforgivably, the Boks failed to maintain this attacking pressure beyond a few phases.
The forwards did well in several facets last Saturday, most notably on defence, but their ball retention at the rucks left a lot to be desired.
The Bok backline hasn’t enjoyed much of an opportunity to settle this season, but they should still be operating at a higher standard. That lack of synergy was patent last Saturday, with players performing as individuals rather than as combinations. Worryingly, these players also showed a lack of patience and decisiveness on attack.
The Boks would earn the opportunity to attack from deep within the opponents’ half, but it seemed that once they had played themselves into these positions, they didn’t have a clue of what to do next.
I still don’t believe that you can compare this Bok side to the All Blacks team that is currently touring Europe. Having said that, the Boks’ recent attacking performances shouldn’t be accepted as standard, not by the Bok coach, players or fans.
The Boks are not the All Blacks, but as another colleague keeps reminding me, they are not Romania either.
The level of execution is unacceptably poor at present. While I maintain that the next Test against England will determine the success of this tour, I cannot discount the underwhelming attacking performances against Ireland and Scotland, and what they may portend for the finale at Twickenham.
England are a far tougher defensive unit than their Celtic counterparts, and won’t offer South Africa as many attacking opportunities. What this means is that the Boks will need to be far more clinical than they have been in the past fortnight.
They won’t get seven or eight chances to score tries, and won’t be afforded as many shots at goal either. They need to make the most of each venture into opposition territory.
That needs to be the message from the coach, the support staff, and the senior players. The focus and attitude needs to change this week. I’m not advocating a radical change in strategy, I’m simply suggesting that Heyneke Meyer and company demand a higher level of execution. And in demanding a better attitude, Meyer should also look to himself for an improvement.
Adriaan Strauss has enjoyed a strong tour, but Meyer’s failure to deploy reserve hooker Schalk Brits has been unfathomable.
Brits has no defensive deficiencies, and has proved himself to be a strong set-piece exponent over the past three European seasons. Significantly, he has the potential to lift the tempo in the second stanza, to add some spark to the attack.
The Bok starting line-up needs to deliver a more clinical showing at Twickenham, and Meyer needs to back his bench to build on that performance in the second half.
It is also time for Meyer to back Elton Jantjies as a matchday squad member. Morné Steyn is not an impact player, and if he is not good enough to be in the staring line-up he is not good enough to be in the squad.