It’s knuckle-down time

2011-08-27 00:00

A COMBINATION of good fortune, Bismarck du Plessis and Morné Steyn — that’s what got the Springboks the win last weekend. Oh, I forgot about Jaque Fourie: he who saved three clear tries in the first half, two of which were the result of calculated rushes when he sensed a try was on for the All Blacks.

The Springboks got away with some critical lapses in their defensive systems during that first quarter of the match. It was just way too easy to break through our defensive line. It is still the most worrying aspect as we head to New Zealand.

The Test proved very informative for the All Blacks’ coaches. The youthful Israel Dagg has thrown down the gauntlet to coach Graham Henry, presenting a serious challenge to Mils Muliaina for the first-choice fullback position.

Sonny Bill Williams once again lived up to the hype by displaying his strong running and deceptive passing skills, which have become his trademark. Williams pulled the tacklers towards him and put Richard Kahui and Dagg into space at will. At times the All Blacks’ midfield made the experienced Springbok midfield look second rate. Not once was the All Black defensive line broken in the midfield, and this from a centre pairing playing together for the very first time in a Test.

For the Springboks (and the supporters especially) the win over the All Blacks came like manna from heaven. We needed it badly.

However, while celebrating the win we must remain honest and realistic about the performance as a whole. While the Springboks showed a lot of grit and determination in defence, in the second half there emerged some serious issues to tackle.

The scrum was pretty impressive with Du Plessis’s impact clearly giving the Springboks that extra edge. His physical presence as hooker is unequalled at scrum time, when he carries the ball or when he defends. The Springboks should not play without him — they need him on the field all the time.

However, despite the good scrum on Saturday, we must acknowledge that the two All Black front-rowers, John Afoa and Tony Woodcock, haven’t played rugby for four weeks and were not at their very best, so we shouldn’t read too much into Gurthrö Steenkamp’s and Beast Mtawarira’s strong showing.

Heinrich Brüssow showed he is fast on his way back to his very best. He is going to be critical in combating Richie McCaw and David Pocock when we play the All Blacks or Australia at the World Cup.

Just how best to use Brüssow and Schalk Burger poses a similar type of conundrum to the John Smit/Bismarck du Plessis dilemma. Maybe the solution lies in playing Burger from the bench with Brüssow starting with Willem Alberts. When Bakkies Botha goes off in the second half, Alberts moves to lock and Burger can come on to wreak havoc in the last 20 minutes of the match — an approach which, in my view, will help the Springboks to stay competitive at the rucks and tackles throughout.

During the few minutes that Patrick Lambie was on he once again demonstrated his maturity to play at this level and play well. He’s got the right skill set and attitude to make a massive difference to the Springboks’ World Cup campaign. I would rather play him than Frans Steyn. In fact, I am of the view that Lambie and Gio Aplon should be the fullbacks for the tournament, but all indications are that Peter de Villiers will go for Morné Steyn with Aplon on stand-by in case of injury.

I deduce from the coach’s comments in the newspapers that Steyn has now been re-proclaimed as the “special one” for the World Cup. It is certainly a massive burden on the Bulls’ pivot’s shoulders, for if De Villiers opts for the more conservative approach at the RWC, tries, as in the last few Tests, will be a scarcity.

The Springboks and South Africa, it seems, will be relying heavily on Steyn to win the RWC. If Saturday is used as a yardstick of his abilities, it certainly isn’t too bad an option. But will it be enough?

A fascinating Tri-Nations “final” awaits on Saturday. Will Graham Henry recall his first-choice players to win the Tri-Nations? Of course, if he selects them and the Australians get it right on the day, then the confidence boot will definitely be on Wallaby feet come RWC time.

As for the Springboks, it’s knuckle-down time until that all-important opener against Wales. I can’t wait any longer!

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