The Du Preez conundrum

2014-06-15 15:00

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It’s not often a dominant performance like that of South Africa thrashing Wales yesterday should be tempered with misgivings, but that’s the case after this test at Kings Park in Durban.

The reason for this must be Fourie du Preez’s comprehensive influence on the Springboks’ playing pattern. The scrum half was in supreme control – directing every thrust, picking the options and orchestrating a more attacking approach with flat passes to draw fly half Morné Steyn and the rest of the backs up to the advantage line.

Fullback Willie le Roux, who delivered his best performance in the Springbok jersey yet, revelled with the ball in front of him, moving along the line. His incursions and devastating combinations with Bryan Habana were key to the Boks running away with it.

It looked extremely promising, at least for the first 60 minutes, until the usual spate of substitutions broke the Boks’ rhythm. But therein lies Heyneke Meyer’s big worry – Du Preez is contracted to play in Japan and there is no guarantee he will be available for all the Rugby Championship tests against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Du Preez is clearly the catalyst in Meyer’s method and it is a concern that the Boks only reach for the standard that was glimpsed yesterday when he is conducting the orchestra.

It’s a conundrum that will have to be solved but in the short term, Meyer can find solace in the fact that the other members of the “dads army” he has called up marched in perfect step.

There is still plenty of spring left in the legs of aging Boks Victor Matfield, still the line-out maestro in his record-equalling 111th test; Bakkies Botha; Gurthrö Steenkamp; and Schalk Burger. The excellent spirit in the side was illustrated by the palpable joy the old-stagers took in welcoming newcomers Cornal Hendricks and Lood de Jager into the Bok fold.

After 28 tests between the two nations, Wales still have only one victory to show over SouthAfrica, and yesterday it was apparent from very early on there was little chance of their coach Warren Gatland’s confident talk materialising into an upset.

Given his head, Le Roux had the visitors at sixes and sevens whenever he had the ball, with his injections of pace and clever chip kicks. The fullback not only scored a try but was instrumental in Habana adding two more to his tally to move his record to 55.

The Welsh were worn down by the crashing runs of Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Bismarck du Plessis and Bakkies Botha, and the front row of Du Plessis and Steenkamp probably raised a quiet toast last night to the fact that their scrummaging led to Adam Jones being replaced as early as the 32nd minute.

It would probably be carping to criticise a solid all-round performance, but for a team that understands the value of the breakdown, the Boks conceded too many turnovers or lost control of the ball in contact.

It will also displease the coaching staff that once the reserves appeared on the field, the Boks lost their structure and failed to score again after having run up a 38-9 lead by the 53rd minute. There will also be an inquisition about Alex Cuthbert’s runaway try, which was the last score of the match.

As good as yesterday’s performance was, there is still much work to be done ahead of Saturday’s second test against Wales at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.

» Meanwhile, in Dunedin earlier yesterday, the All Blacks beat England 28-27 in an epic to claim the series. In Melbourne, the Wallabies were made to fight hard before getting home 6-0 against France.

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