De Villiers: ‘The crowd was good, but not us’

2012-06-25 00:00

CAPTAIN Jean de Villiers spoke of their enthusiasm, intensity and loyalty, but sadly he was paying tribute to the damp Port Elizabeth crowd rather than his own players after the Springboks drew 14-14 with the English in the third and final Test on Saturday night.

The South Africans won the series 2-0 but they took several backward steps at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium as England, organised and brave in a massive defensive effort, picked holes in Springbok rugby.

De Villiers and coach Heyneke Meyer were quick to concede the Springboks had played badly as they failed to adapt to the wet conditions.

“We were bad,” said De Villiers, “and we are very disappointed. But credit to England for their defensive effort.”

De Villiers was clearly embarrassed by the underwhelming Bok response to the overwhelming excitement of the rugby-starved home crowd who packed the ground in the rain.

“The crowd was fantastic but we were not. I hope we can come back soon and play some decent rugby for them,” the Bok captain added.

The Springboks’ game plan is based on achieving momentum with their big ball-carriers running down the inside channel to breach the gainline and quickly recycle possession. But England, forewarned, ensured they were heavily armed in midfield and their gang tackles on the South African forwards broke the Bok rhythm and slowed down their possession.

Sharks supporters will have been reminded of their team’s last Super Rugby game at Ellis Park a month ago when they were also knocked back on the advantage line by the ready and waiting Lions and lost their way tactically as a result.

The Boks failed to adapt either with pick-and-go moves down the middle to suck in defenders or by playing the ball into space. Instead, they kept playing in the heavy traffic, quickly going to ground and surrendering the initiative.

Scrumhalf Francois Hougaard, receiving slow ball, was patchy and it was only when he was replaced by Ruan Pienaar in the second half that there was some snap behind the Bok forwards.

Morné Steyn, who has not enjoyed a happy series, both in his goalkicking and in general play, again struggled. Conditions were not easy but he missed three kicks at goal and a drop, which kept England within range, allowing them to kick a late penalty to draw level.

The Boks, not for the first time, found out how dangerous it is to place all their eggs in one basket, particularly when the basket is kicking badly. And Steyn would not agree with De Villiers’s warm words about the crowd after he was booed in the second half.

Steyn’s lack of success also persuaded captain De Villiers to pass up a couple of kickable penalties in favour of attacking lineouts, which were then promptly lost to the English. It was that sort of night and that sort of performance.

Meyer is very much a Morné Steyn man but he should be taking a good, hard look at other flyhalves ahead of the Rugby Champions. Certainly a Pat Lambie or Johan Goosen (if he is over his shoulder injury) would add variety and vision to the Boks’ backplay. And at least that would provide them with attacking options.

Meyer added that the Boks did not need a Plan B. “If we can’t execute a Plan A, why go to a Plan B? We will stick to this plan. It’s all about execution before innovation. There is still a long way to go, and we will stick to what works for us. We have already shown that we can be a dangerous side.” Meyer echoed his captain in finding nothing positive about the Boks’ play on Saturday night. “The crowd support was probably the only good thing about this game.”

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