Springbok loss lets All Blacks in

2009-09-07 00:00

THE Springboks paid a heavy price for not playing their own game in the Tri-Nations international against the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday and their 21-6 defeat has kept the All Blacks alive in the competition.

The Springboks, leading the standings by nine points, are still strong favourites to take the title, and a bonus point against the All Blacks in Hamilton this week should be enough to win the Tri-Nations. If they fail, however, the New Zealanders could still emerge as the most unlikely of champions by taking 10 points in their final two games — against first the Boks and then the Wallabies in Wellington the following weekend.

The South Africans said after the Brisbane defeat that there would be no panic and that the loss was a one-off. Coach Peter de Villiers described the loss “as one of those days when the bounce of the ball and momentum swings against you,” and vice-captain Victor Matfield said “it was just one of the those bad games that you get.”

But there are areas of concern, there are recurring problems which until Saturday have been papered over by victory.

The Springboks certainly erred tactically on Saturday in trying to stay with the high-paced Wallaby game in the first half. Certainly Wallaby coach Robbie Deans believes that the fast start made by his team hurt the Boks late in the game.

”I was very encouraged by how much we asked of the Springboks in the first half. I felt we’d get the reward for that later and we did,” Deans said.

”We managed to take them outside of their comfort zone and the 33 tackles they missed are indicative of our ability to isolate their defenders. We forced them to play in a way they haven’t had to before this year.”

The Boks have performed poorly in the final quarter all season and Saturday’s Test cried out for a more measured approach, one based on tactical kicking, their superior lineout and playing for territory.

Instead the game started at a frenetic pace and the Boks, on the day, could not match the enthusiasm and physicality of the Wallabies and then faded in the final quarter when they were badly beaten for possession.

The Springbok scrum also remains an area of concern. While John Smit and company stood up strongly for much of the game, and even occasionally put the Wallabies under pressure, the scrum again creaked in the final quarter when penalties were conceded.

The Boks were not helped by injury and De Villiers lacks impact players on the bench. The influential Bryan Habana left the field before half-time and his replacement Adi Jacobs, a centre desperately short of game time, looked rusty while lock Bakkies Botha, who started with an injury, departed after 50 minutes and the pack suffered.

Matfield conceded that the Boks had made a basic error in playing from too deep instead of looking for territory.

”In the second half, we made the mistake of playing too much rugby in our own half. The most important facet of the game now is the kicking game, if you win that, then you’ll dominate territory and probably win the game.

“”They had a great kicking game, we were behind and under pressure and we couldn’t get out of our half. Everytime we tried, they just kicked us back.”

Smit said he had expected the Wallaby back lash but the Boks had lacked intensity in dealing with it.

”Rest assured, though, the guys will be fired up for the final game in Hamilton,” the Bok captain added.

But, on Saturday’s evidence, no Springbok supporter will be sleeping easily while New Zealanders will be dreaming of miracles.

See also page 18.

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