Mark Keohane, in Independent Media’s publications, writes that any Springbok bashing would be a misrepresentation because Saturday’s 23-13 defeat against the All Blacks was a fantastic game of rugby. However, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus would be the first to acknowledge that his All Black counterpart Steve Hansen got the drop on him in selection and game strategy.
The All Blacks used a strong kicking game to negate the potency of the Boks’ rush defence and the selection of two specialist opensiders in Adri Savea and Sam Cane worked a treat for the defending champions in the 40 minutes before Cane left the field with concussion.
The All Blacks’ two tries showcased the wonderful skills of so many of their players, but it was their discipline in contact, their shape defensively and a refusal to commit numbers to the breakdown that troubled the Boks.
Most All Black wins are memorable because of the tries they score, but Saturday’s victory was because of their defence and a game plan that relied more on kicking than it did running.
They kicked the ball 35 times and on 19 occasions won back the kicked ball. Scrumhalf Aaron Smith produced a masterful display of kicking from the base which was reminiscent of Fourie du Preez’s form at the 2007 World Cup in France.
The All Blacks made 82% of their tackles and that figure would have been higher had Bok wing Cheslin Kolbe not bewitched them. Kolbe beat 11 defenders in making 124 metres. He also made three linebreaks and his attacking statistics were the best in the match.
The All Blacks were smart in how they played and there could be no counter to the discipline of the men in black.
The Boks’ lineout is arguably the best in the world and the All Blacks clearly tried to limit kicking the ball into touch. South Africa’s lineout maul has been a big attacking weapon, but it was hardly a factor because the All Blacks conceded only four penalties.
French referee Jerome Garces penalised the Boks nine times and he missed a hell of a lot in respect to both teams, but there was no bias towards the All Blacks. SA were lucky to escape a yellow card early on for a cynical professional foul.
The All Blacks won this match more than the Boks lost it and most teams at this World Cup would have crumbled under the initial wave of green-and-gold attack.
The Boks collectively didn’t play badly and they were outstanding in getting within four points with 15 minutes to go after the All Blacks had led 17-3 at halftime.
Faf de Klerk didn’t play well and while Erasmus has been vocal in affirming De Klerk is his preferred starting No 9, there is a compelling case for Herschel Jantjies’ promotion.
SA’s best wasn’t good enough to beat New Zealand’s best on Saturday but with a few tweaks on attack, greater adaptation to referee interpretation at the scrum and breakdown, the Boks’ best will be good enough to beat Ireland in a probable quarter-final.
Mark keohane is part of the Independent Media and IOL Rugby World Cup team of writers