Boks’ management keep their heads in the sand

2012-09-10 00:00

INJURIES, citings and defeat rounded off another thoroughly depressing weekend for Springbok rugby and the only good news for South Africa yesterday was that All Black playmaker Dan Carter will miss Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash in Dunedin.

The Springboks went down 26-19 to the Wallabies in Perth on Saturday, their fifth successive loss to the Australians, and the Rugby Championship has quickly become a one-horse, All Black race.

Almost as worrying as the Springbok display was the head-in-the-sand response of the South African management to the defeat.

Captain Jean de Villiers is adamant that the Boks “are on the right track”, while coach Heyneke Meyer attributed the loss to one or two “silly mistakes” on defence in the second half.

But, if we are to be brutally honest here, this was a defeat to a poor, sloppy Wallaby team, a pale imitation of the slick, confident streetwise Australian teams regularly beaten by Springboks in recent years.

Yet the Boks could not put them to bed. The kicking game of Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar and Zane Kirchner worked in the first half when the hesitant, out-of-sorts Wallabies, in the words of coach Robbie Deans, spoilt attack after attack with “dribbly little kicks” and turnovers.

The Wallabies found some confidence in the second half, keeping the ball in hand and stretching the SA defence. The Boks had little to offer but bash, kick and chase.

It was only in the closing minutes, when the Test was disappearing over the horizon, that Meyer desperately threw on flyhalf Johan Goosen and fullback Pat Lambie as replacements. Finally there was a hint, just a suggestion, of creativity in the Bok ranks, but it was far too little, 75 minutes too late.

Of course, the Boks have been savaged by retirements and injuries, but it should be remembered that South Africa did have three out of the six teams in the Super Rugby play-offs and depth was considered one of the country’s strengths.

Yet the Boks played so little rugby on Saturday, seldom looking to counter-attack or create anything in midfield, and at times even butchered overlaps with their poor options and long skip passes.

The team are desperately short of ambition and innovation. A lack of experience was also blamed for the defeat, yet even the Boks’ battle-hardened players — De Villiers, Frans and Morné Steyn, Willem Alberts and props Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis — are not making any particular impact.

There has also, surely, to be a balance in playing styles. Goosen and Lambie are players for the future. Both are capable of fitting into the structured approach of Springbok rugby, but they can also add some individual skills to the mix and are able to produce that spark that can split open tight contests.

The bad news did not stop there. The 20-year-old lock, Eben Etzebeth, was goaded by veteran Nathan Sharpe into a limp attempt at a head-butt and has been cited. As one of the more physical and committed forwards in the Bok pack, he would be sorely missed against the All Blacks.

And two of Meyer’s most experienced players, wing Bryan Habana (ankle), who scored the only try against the Wallabies, and tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis (hamstring) were both forced from the field and are in doubt for the Dunedin Test.

De Villiers was doing his best to keep his sunny side up after the loss.

He said the outcome had been disappointing after the foundation for a win had been laid in the first half.

“I don’t think that we can suddenly expect to be the greatest team in the world and just click and play fantastic rugby. We need to learn from the experiences, we need to grow as a team and that takes some time,” he said.

De Villiers pointed out that Sharpe “had more caps than our whole pack … But we believe that we are on the right track. We believe that we played much better rugby [in Perth] and hopefully we can keep on improving when we play next week as well.”

“It is a young team, but it is Test match rugby and you don’t have a lot of time to grow at this level.”

Of course, the Boks and Meyer need time to develop, but there would be a far more sympathetic audience out there if they went down bravely and making some attempt to play positive.

The Boks will be relieved that All Black flyhalf Carter will not play on Saturday because of the injury which kept him out of the Argentine Test.

His place will be taken by Aaron Cruden, who battled in the wet conditions against the Pumas. It won’t be enough to save this Bok team.

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