Ruan out over injury, not poor kicking

2009-07-27 00:00

COACH Peter de Villiers confirmed that flyhalf Ruan Pienaar was replaced by Morné Steyn at half-time of Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test because of injury and not for tactical reasons, but the change worked out perfectly for the Springboks, who beat the All Blacks 28-19.

Pienaar missed four goalable kicks in the first half — two did hit the uprights and stayed out — but such was the Springboks’ dominance, physically and territorially, that they led 14-3 and it seemed they would win anyway. Pienaar had added one penalty and Frans Steyn a brace — one from 53 metres — to underline the Boks’ superiority in the first half.

But the All Blacks, more committed and matching the Boks’ intensity in the second half, fought back tenaciously and there were moments when they seemed the more likely winners. It needed three penalties by Morné Steyn — two from 50 metres — to first keep the South Africans in front and then ensure a nine-point win and deny the All Blacks a bonus point.

“Ruan was injured five minutes before half-time and that’s why we took him off at the break,” De Villiers said later. “You can’t play the All Blacks with passengers. You have those bad days that Ruan had as a kicker, but in general play he was much better.”

The events of Saturday added fuel to the ongoing flyhalf debate. Pienaar, in the first half and behind his muscular forwards, looked slick and in control and scored the only try before the break when he wrapped around centre Jean de Villiers to cross in the corner. But under increasing pressure from the crowd who greeted each failure with chants of “Morné, Morné,” he missed 11 points with the boot.

Morné Steyn, with the more difficult kicks, landed three out of four, but he was easily handed off by Conrad Smith as the All Black centre ran through to score. When All Black flyhalf Stephen Donald, who goaled five of his six attempts, kicked the conversion and added a penalty, the New Zealanders were trailing 17-13 and, controlling the flow of the contest, were scenting victory.

Morné and Donald traded penalties (20-16) but the match was settled with eight minutes remaining when the All Blacks, attacking strongly on the Boks’ 22-metre line, attempted to be too fancy at the back of a maul. The ball was spilled, Bok number eight Pierre Spies booted through, All Black replacement Piri Weepu threw his second wild pass in the move and flank Juan Smith was up to send Bok centre Jaque Fourie in at the corner.

The Boks were 25-16 ahead and the All Blacks needed to score twice. Donald did kick a fourth penalty, but Morné Steyn, with a goal from over 50 metres, denied them a bonus point as the game went into injury time.

The Springboks looked a highly accomplished unit in the first half when their muscular forwards bullied the All Blacks at the breakdown, held them in the scrum and exposed their limitations in the lineout. Their aggressive forward play kept the All Blacks under pressure, forcing them to play in their own half where they committed a string of errors.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis and lock Bakkies Botha provided the hard, physical edge, flank Heinrich Brussow was superb at the breakdown and in making a series of strong tackles while lock Victor Matfield, in the lineouts and at the kick-offs, was in towering form.

Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez was typically sound and composed — until he was surprisingly, and dangerously, replaced by the rusty Ricky Januarie in the closing minutes — and, while little was seen of the Springbok backs on attack, their defence was organised in the first half though occasionally vulnerable in the second after Pienaar and Jean de Villiers departed because of injury.

The second half brought a change in mood and tempo as the All Black forwards lifted their intensity, found their rhythm and finally provided their backs with frontfoot possession.

The Boks were forced to hang on for long periods, and they were tested by a willing Joe Rokocoko, Smith and Donald, but mistakes at critical times not only cost them tries but also presented the Boks with the point-scoring opportunities that won them the Test.

 

SCORERS: South Africa: Tries: Ruan Pienaar, Jaque Fourie. Penalties: Frans Steyn (2), Pienaar, Morne Steyn (3) New Zealand: Tries: Conrad Smith. Conversions: Stephen Donald. Penalties: Donald (4).

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