Embarrassed Boks face fired-up England after Murrayfield debacle

2010-11-22 00:00

THE Springboks, with their tails between their legs and the dream of a grand slam tour in tatters, travelled to London yesterday to prepare for confident England in the toughest challenge of their Britain and Ireland tour.

The Boks, undone by the tenacious Scots, heavy rain, an erratic Australian referee and, above all, their own ineptitude, were beaten 21-17 at Murrayfield on Saturday evening. Ahead lie Martin Johnson’s buoyant England who have just thumped Australia 35-18 in their most impressive win at Twickenham in years and are now itching to have a crack at the world champions.

The Springboks, on and off the field, are decidedly vulnerable. Not only have they stagnated tactically since their Tri-Nations triumph in 2009, but talented individuals are performing below their best in a disjointed team effort.

Coach Peter de Villiers’ selections, his haphazard use of substitutes and a lack of direction are compounding the Boks’ problems.

SA Rugby Union officials are believed to have told De Villiers that he had to shape up on tour or ship out and Saturday’s Test at Twickers could well decide his future.

The coach said that the Boks’ failure to perform the basics had cost them dearly at Murrayfield as they lost to a team beaten 49-3 by the All Blacks just a week before.

“We neglected doing those things that had worked for us up to now, winning our first-phase ball and holding on to it.

“We let our supporters and ourselves down and allowed Scotland to put the pressure on us.

“We’ve no one else to blame other than ourselves, but the Scotland game has gone and we’re focusing on a massive challenge. England have been very impressive of late and will have taken a lot of confidence from their results and we can’t afford to make as many errors against them.”

He agreed that the refereeing of Stuart Dickinson had frustrated the Springboks and captain Victor Matfield’s annoyance on the field was obvious.

“Some of the refereeing decisions were puzzling,” said De Villiers, “but we did not respond the way we should have done.

“The momentum at the beginning was with us and we were quite comfortable, but we were nailed by the referee for a few things on our ball and it gave them a lift,” he said.

The confusion in the Bok camp appeared to be confirmed by Matfield’s reaction to the defeat at the hands of the weakest of the four home union teams.

“Everyone wants us to be more expansive. But the weather didn’t allow that. Maybe we were thinking too much about that (being expansive) rather than being accurate in our execution …”

No one would have expected the Springboks to play a wide-ranging, expansive game in the wet, slippery conditions, but it was expected that they would drive with their big forwards down the inside channels — as they did in the opening 10 minutes — and retain possession rather than constantly kick the ball away.

De Villiers’ substitutions at halfback added to the tactical bewilderment with scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar replacing Francois Hougaard to add to the kicking options before young Pat Lambie, a running, passing flyhalf took over from an experienced, match-winning kicker in Morné Steyn.

De Villiers said that the Steyn-Lambie change was part of a long-term plan.

“If we look at the Morné Steyn substitution in isolation then it might have been a mistake, but if you look at the bigger picture towards next year’s World Cup then you have to say that the player (Lambie) needs to get experience of playing in these conditions,” said De Villiers.

England manager Martin Johnson, with good reason, said yesterday he was looking forward to the challenge of playing the Boks.

“We’ve got one big shot at the world champions on Saturday. Everything about us has got to have a little bit more intensity and accuracy.”

The Springbok squad, with no immediate injury concerns, was restored to 30 yesterday when wing Odwa Ndungane, hooker Bandise Maku and uncapped scrumhalf Charl McLeod joined the squad for the final two games against England and the Barbarians also at Twickenham on December 4.

Matfield said the Murrayfield defeat would not derail the Springboks.

“After mourning this defeat we will start again on Monday with new energy, new focus. It’ll be exactly the same as any other week.”

Not for hundreds of thousands of Springbok supporters, it won’t, not after that humbling defeat on Saturday evening.

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