Halfback horror hampers Boks

JON CARDINELLI writes the poor execution of the kicking game as well as indecision with ball in hand contributed to another disappointing Springbok attacking performance.

Even if the weather was fair, you wouldn’t have bet on defence-oriented teams like England and South Africa playing an adventurous brand. What would have been expected was a high level of accuracy, and a degree of consistency that may have allowed either team to build some defence-compromising momentum.

It was not to be, as England and South Africa delivered attacking performances of the lowest order.

Only one try was scored in this contest, and even that was down to luck rather than sustained pressure. The Boks enjoyed many a venture into English territory, but their poor hands, lack of accuracy at the breakdown, and shocking decision-making culled many a promising movement.

Ultimately, it was a ricocheting ball that fell favourably for the try-scorer Willem Alberts. It was a big moment in the game, with Pat Lambie converting the try to extend South Africa’s lead to 10 points.

But just as the Boks had struggled to build and finish their opportunities, they made a pig’s ear of closing out the match. Their halfbacks put them under pressure with some territory-costing mistakes, and the visitors were fortunate that this very poor England team was not able to capitalise.

Ruan Pienaar had one of his worst Tests in a Springbok shirt. Some may argue that the conditions made it difficult to control the ball or kick tactically with any great accuracy. But it wasn’t just Pienaar’s execution that was at fault, but his decision-making as well.

Pienaar’s first attempted clearance was charged down by the English. Why he didn’t pass the ball to Lambie, who was safely back in the pocket, only the scrumhalf will know.

Pienaar struggled to recover from that early blunder. He made another mistake when a subsequent clearance failed to find touch, and England were allowed to counter-attack given nobody had chased the kick. The end result was a penalty goal for Toby Flood.

The Bok scrumhalf would miss touch again after an England kickoff, and again this handed the hosts possession and territory. It has been a successful tactic in the past, but on this occasion, Pienaar battled to get sufficient hang-time on his box-kicks, and the chasers were rarely given an opportunity to compete and reclaim possession.

Pienaar was consistently poor, while Lambie was just inconsistent. The conditions weren’t conducive to throwing the ball around, but there were several attacking opportunities deep in English territory where Lambie made the wrong decision to grubber, chip and skip pass.

Things didn’t go the Boks’ way at scrum time, but the lineout was in fantastic form. While the forwards blew hot and cold at the attacking ruck, there was enough momentum created in English territory for the Boks to have scored several more tries.

England were not only poor with ball in hand, but in front of goal as well. Flood missed two kickable opportunities early on, and that ensured that they didn’t get full reward for their territorial dominance. It also ensured that a couple of Pienaar’s errors went unpunished.

The Boks overplayed the kick-chase tactic. There was a clear example where Pienaar unleashed Francois Hougaard down the left hand touchline, and then followed in support. When Pienaar collected a pass from Hougaard, he then decided to launch the garryowen. It was but one of many instances where the Boks surrendered possession cheaply, and another example of their lack of synergy.

Lambie produced some neat touches in the second stanza, with some well weighted probes earning the Boks good field position. Unfortunately, the Boks could not keep the ball for more than a couple of phases before knocking on or conceding a penalty.

Unsurprisingly, England’s best try-scoring opportunity was from the counter-attack. Pienaar collected one of the many wayward England lineout feeds and found Lambie in support. Ruck ball was recycled quickly, but the Boks failed once again to make this chance count.

Instead, a pass landed in the clutches of England centre Manu Tuilagi. The Boks were fortunate that England’s skills let them down later in the movement.

England enjoyed more and more chances as the clock wound down, and again, Pienaar and Lambie were guilty of a brain explosion apiece.

The Boks had a scrum on their own 22, and Pienaar showed a poor appreciation for the laws by kicking the ball dead. Lambie then contributed with an elementary error, sending a kickoff into touch.

There were other players who underperformed and lost their concentration at key moments of this contest, and not all of the blame can be laid at the halfbacks’ door. However, the Boks are fortunate that England did not capitalise on the majority of Pienaar and Lambie’s mistakes.

It was a performance that would have done little to advance either player’s cause for a permanent starting position.

Follow JC on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter