Tactical switch powers Boks

2009-08-03 00:00

ALL BLACK coach Graham Henry generously praised the Springboks for their 31-19 Tri-Nations win at King’s Park on Saturday and then defended his team’s high risk approach to the international.

The Springboks played “outstandingly well and congratulations to John Smit and his team”, he said after the All Blacks’ second loss on consecutive Saturdays.

Flyhalf Morne Steyn scored all his side’s points (a try, eight penalties and a conversion) but it was the pressure exerted by the Springboks’ bruising pack, their accurate kicking game and superior tactics in the windy and wet conditions which buried the New Zealanders.

“The Springboks were certainly better than last week,” said Henry, “and that was disappointing for us and made life very difficult.”

New Zealand observers were dismayed at the ambitious approach in often trying to move the ball under pressure and from deep in their own half.

But Henry said it was the All Blacks’ execution rather than the tactical plan which was at fault.

“When you are struggling in the scrums and line-outs, you have to take what opportunities come your way. We made too many mistakes and that was the result of the pressure which the Boks put on us. And then, when you fall behind, you end up chasing your tail.”

On occasions they did unlock the Bok defence when they attacked from broken play. Their only try, after just 12 minutes, by tall lock Isaac Ross followed an 80-metre move as the All Blacks surprised the Boks by attacking from broken play after a quick line-out. But, for the most part, a string of poor passes, handling errors or ill-conceived attacking sorties when faced by Bok defence resulted in turnovers and penalties.

The Springboks, with towering up-and-unders from the two Steyns and Fourie du Preez in the swirling wind, and an enthusiastic chasing game, forced the All Blacks to play their rugby in their own half where they lived dangerously, suffocated under a blanket of green.

Such was the Springbok control at forward that the yellow-carding of first JP Pietersen (high tackle) and then Bakkies Botha (early tackle) did little to change the flow of the game. In contrast, when All Black Ross was sent to the cooler for a deliberate foul just before half-time, Steyn scored 13 points (two penalties, try and a conversion) in his absence.

Steyn’s try was the result of an excellent Frans Steyn kick into the corner and then a powerful Bok scrum on the All Black feed which saw Du Preez snaffle the ball and send Steyn over. Steyn converted and then added a penalty on half-time and the Boks, with rain falling, were handily ahead at 22-13.

Twice, when first All Black flyhalf Stephen Donald and then replacement Luke McAlister, with his first kick from 52 metres, narrowed the deficit to six points in the second half, Steyn immediately responded with penalties to keep the Boks two scores clear (nine points).

His 35th minute penalty (31-19) immediately sparked the now customary but frustrating mass exodus of senior players with Bok coach Peter de Villiers clearing his bench and handing out Test caps for the closing three minutes. The game as a contest was over but a bonus point for the All Blacks was still within reach. And certainly Smit, as captain, deserved to be there at the final whistle.

Smit refused to criticise the All Blacks’ tactical approach.

“It’s not for me to comment on their game but I know what it is like when you are under pressure and chasing the game. You can get panicky. I’ve been there. They played the high tempo game that suits the strengths of their players and it would probably have paid dividends against another side.

“We tried to force them into a situation where they were taking risks and that played into our hands.”

Smit said the Boks had changed their tactical approach from the previous week because they had heard the referee would not allow them to maul.

“We have to find other ways to put the All Blacks under pressure [by competing vigorously at the breakdown and in the set pieces, and by keeping the New Zealanders in their own half with kicks].”

“We knew we had to take a step up in terms of intensity and physicality because they would …”

All Black captain Richie McCaw had no excuses as he rated the Boks as one of the strongest teams he had ever faced.

“These guys are right up there among the best I have played against. They have such experience and talent across the park. We made too many mistakes but it was under pressure.”

While Morne Steyn hogged all the Boks’ point-scoring, it was very much a team effort with the aggression of the Springbok forwards, in all areas, critical in keeping the All Blacks under pressure.

Centre Jaque Fourie, at the kick-offs, in midfield and in chasing kicks, was a powerful force, Heinrich Brussow was impressive at the breakdown and Victor Matfield and his line-out again tormented the New Zealanders. Pierre Spies threatened, John Smit scrummed quite strongly and made a couple of critical tackles, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira and Bakkies Botha provided a hard physical edge to the game.

But, inevitably, this will be remembered as Morne Steyn’s Test and the Bok admitted afterwards that he felt he was playing out a dream … but one which 45 000 fans at the ground and millions of South Africans watching on television could also enjoy.

SCORERS

Springboks 31 (Morne Steyn try; 8 penalties, conversion) All Blacks 19 (Isaac Ross try; Stephen Donald 3 penalties, conversion, Luke McAlister penalty).

 

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