A show of brutal defence and fierce physicality

2012-11-19 00:00

CREATIVITY, ambition and attacking backplay went out of the window and it was brutal defence and fierce physicality, which carried the Springboks to their 21-10 weekend win over Scotland at Murrayfield.

Coach Heyneke Meyer said he would settle for the “ugly win” — and so will the Springbok supporters, but their frustration will continue with a team which offers so much but, on attack, produces so little.

The Murrayfield contest reversed the yo-yo performance in Dublin a week earlier, and this time the Springboks were impressive in leading 14-3 at the break, but then spent the second half conceding possession and penalties and hanging on resolutely for their win.

There is much to admire in the current Springbok squad, but the quality work is being done by the committed forwards while the role played by the backs is limited to tackling, kicking and chasing.

Saturday’s defining moment, the incident which highlighted the problem facing the Springboks, came minutes before half-time when they were attacking and taking the ball through the phases.

Flyhalf Pat Lambie, in possession, in space and with backs outside him, opted for an up-and-under and the ball (and moment) was lost.

Lambie is an instinctive running, passing flyhalf and his decision to take the aerial route when in an attacking position was so out of character that it seemed to confirm that he is inhibited by a blinkered game plan and playing to instructions.

The Springboks have threatening outside backs yet not once did they produce a full backline movement and world-class wing JP Pietersen spends his Test matches defending.

Powerful backrowers, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw, along with hooker Adriaan Strauss, regularly breached the gainline at Murrayfield, but only to set up another forward charge before, inevitably, possession was turned over.

The players appear reluctant to express themselves on attack.

Off-loads, line-breaks and creating space, as former national coach Nick Mallett remarked later, are not in the Springbok vocabulary.

Significantly, the Springboks’ two tries — both by hooker Adriaan Strauss — were products of a rolling maul (again) and an interception. The backs created nothing (again).

The Springboks, with an excellent lineout and committed at the breakdown, have the platform to play balanced rugby, but they lack confidence on attack and there is no cohesion when they have ball in hand.

Meyer was clearly relieved with the win, but said he was disappointed with the second half.

Meyer said: “We had done everything we set out to do in the early part of the game, but the second half was a bit like last week’s first half [in Dublin].”

Meyer said the shift in momentum was because of the many second-half penalties (seven were at scrum-time with replacement tighthead CJ van der Linde found wanting).

Lambie, ominously, was replaced by Morné Steyn at flyhalf in the closing minutes, but Meyer appears satisfied with the Sharks flyhalf.

“Our tactical kicking was superb in the first half, and Lambie really played well before half-time.

“But the second half was a bit like the first half last week.

“You can’t really influence the game with tactical kicking when you don’t have the ball,” he added.

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said rugby was about attack and defence, “and we certainly defended well.”

Scotland coach Andy Robinson was impressed with the Boks’ power, saying: “Last week [against the All Blacks] we faced speed, this week we faced physicality, and we just weren’t up to it. The Springbok tactics were spot on in the first half when they controlled territory and didn’t allow us into the game. And when we controlled territory in the second half, the physical Springbok defence was too good for us.

“They are the toughest team we’ve played against.”

Robinson said that the Springboks were developing into an effective unit, “playing to a plan and with players able to implement that plan”.

“Their pack, with Eben Etzebeth and Francois Louw coming in, is becoming very balanced.”

The Springbok defence, in contrast to their attack, was organised, committed and brave.

Alberts, on the drive and in making massive hits, was superb in the first half, Louw was exceptional throughout while Etzebeth and Strauss were heavily involved.

Just a pity that the backs were not also allowed to play.

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