Comedy of errors: Boks squander solid forward performance to gift below-par All Blacks flattering win

2012-09-17 00:00

THE Springboks, hamstrung by error and a shortage of ambition, did more to lose their weekend Rugby Championship international in Dunedin than the All Blacks did to win it.

The Springbok forwards, organised and committed, did all the hard work in securing a bridgehead for victory. But missed chances, both in kicking goals and scoring tries, along with their predisposition to boot away hard-earned possession, allowed the off-colour All Blacks to wriggle free and fashion a flattering 21-11 victory.

The All Blacks were certainly not the threat we expected. Indeed, had the New Zealanders made a man-of-the-match award, Springbok replacement prop Dean Greyling would have been the runaway winner.

Let it first be said that coach Heyneke Meyer did not have a good Test and, again, his substitutions and post-match comments will have added to the gloom and frustration of Springbok supporters.

The Springbok scrum was performing strongly when Meyer decided to fix what was not broken by replacing loosehead prop Beast Mtawarira in the 50th minute, two minutes after the Boks had taken an 8-5 lead through Bryan Habana’s moment of individual brilliance. The Beast was having one of his most effective Tests in months, but Meyer later said the Sharks prop was tired after a long season and he wanted fresh legs on the field.

He got more than he bargained for and it is difficult to remember a tactical switch at this level which has failed more spectacularly. Greyling’s first act was to gift the All Blacks a penalty which was goaled to level the scores (8-8). Just 12 minutes later Greyling smashed his forearm into the face of the lurking All Black Richie McCaw at a ruck and was sin-binned. Meyer later castigated Greyling and said his action “had cost us the Test”.

But wait there is more. Greyling had the chance to make amends on his return from the cooler but dropped the ball when just two metres away from the All Black line.

Still, the unfortunate Greyling was not done. The Boks were trailing 18-11 on the final hooter and the bonus point would at least have provided some reward for the wholehearted efforts of their forwards. But up popped Greyling to infringe at the final ruck and Cruden took the All Blacks 10 points clear with the final kick of the match.

The Boks should still have won this Test in spite of the mayhem caused by Greyling. Whether it was complacency or over-confidence, the All Blacks were vulnerable and the Boks had every chance to cause a massive upset.

Former New Zealand and Lions coach John Mitchell said later that the All Blacks had become lazy and their forwards lacked drive and direction. Certainly the Springboks created far more chances and smothered the New Zealanders at the breakdown.

Al Black captain McCaw admitted they had been caught flat-footed by the Boks and they were only kept in the game by the South Africans’ inability to turn pressure into points.

The Boks missed seven attempts at goal — three, admittedly, from long range — they butchered three genuine try-scoring chances and Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn, playing to instructions, booted away a mountain of possession, at times after the ball had been taken through the phases.

But Meyer later said he was impressed with the Boks’ tactical approach.

“We played the right game and placed the All Blacks under tremendous pressure. Our problem is that we did not turn pressure into points and they did.”

All Black coach Steve Hansen praised the Springboks for the way they had stopped his side playing their expansive, free-flowing rugby.

“South Africa won the collisions both as tacklers and ball carriers and when you do that you go forward. We hung in there and slowly created ascendancy and it allowed us to win the game,” he said, ignoring the role that Morné Steyn, with four missed goalkicks, and Greyling had played in derailing the Springbok effort.

Meyer conceded that he “may have been wrong” to not change his goalkicker earlier and use either Ruan Pienaar or Frans Steyn.

The Bok coach did eventually replace Steyn at flyhalf with Goosen after an hour and the 20-year-old, playing flat and willing to run with the ball, immediately added a new dimension to the Boks’ backplay. He also goaled a superb long-range penalty and it is almost inconceivable that Meyer will continue to select Morné Steyn ahead of him.

The good news is that at least he is thinking about a change.

“You want to show confidence in your players but sometimes you have to make those difficult decisions …”

Meyer said he regarded Goosen as the future but did not “want to throw him to the wolves.”

“Johan is coming through. I will look at the video, take the emotion out of it and maybe make a few hard calls,” he said.

South Africans will be holding their breath.

See page 19 for more on the Springboks.

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