Boks: glimmers of hope stack up against real concerns as sa takes a disapointing bow out of Tri-Nations

2011-08-15 00:00

THE Springboks’ second-half substitutions, and a change of Wallabies’ tactics in the swirling rain, were decisive factors in what proved a wet and miserable outing for the near-capacity crowd at King’s Park on Saturday evening.

The Wallabies, on the strength of a strong second-half showing and scoring the only try, won the Test 14-9 as the world champion Boks stumbled to their third successive defeat in this year’s Tri-Nations.

The Springboks, expected to be ring-rusty after lengthy lay-offs, started surprisingly well and were aggressive at the breakdown and in the tackle as they pressured the Wallabies into many first-half errors. But John Smit’s team frittered away scoring chances and their only reward came with penalties by Frans Steyn and Butch James for a 6-0 lead at the break.

The Wallabies, expertly using space on attack, twice came close to scoring, but the Boks generally had the better of the first half and they should have had more to show for it. In the space of 10 minutes James missed a relatively easy penalty and an attempted drop while the television match official ruled, correctly, that centre Jaque Fourie had just knocked on as he chased a bouncing ball in the Wallabies’ in-goal area before dotting down.

The second half proved a major letdown for the 48 000 spectators with the deteriorating weather adding to their discomfort and dismay. And, again, the Springboks and their coaching staff appeared determined to play the perfect hosts by clearing the way for an Australian victory.

Coach Peter de Villiers, just 10 minutes into the second half, said a lack of fitness played a part as he replaced flank Heinrich Brüssow and meddled with the front-row by switching John Smit from hooker to tighthead. The changes broke the Springboks’ rhythm and destroyed their set scrum, one which had provided revitalised number eight Pierre Spies with a solid platform to launch a series of first-half attacks off the back.

De Villiers’s substitutions followed Wallaby centre Pat McCabe’s try, the only one of the match, which coincided with the arrival of the rain, the straining of the chunky Frans Steyn’s hamstring and the loss of Springbok intensity.

The Wallabies, usually the most reluctant kickers, immediately turned to the boot of halfbacks Quade Cooper and Will Genia and they successfully played for territory in the rain as the Boks became progressively more ragged.

The Bok scrum imediately disintegrated, first coughing up a turnover, then a penalty (14-9) and, finally, captain Smit as he left the field clutching his arm. Tighthead Jannie du Plessis returned and the scrum immediately settled, but the damage had been done and the Boks, lacking finesse on attack, simply could not break down the resilient Wallaby defence.

The defeat and steady rain destroyed the thousands of after-parties on the backfields of King’s Park.

But there were a couple of silver linings. Spies and wing Bryan Habana, after subdued Super Rugby campaigns, suddenly came to life, both on attack and defence, veterans Bakkies Botha and Smit were heavily involved in the first half and halfbacks Fourie du Preez and James controlled the initial flow of the game. The midfield defence was also solid and well-organised and the Wallabies were forced into error.

For a first half of rugby after many weeks of inactivity it was encouraging. But there was a dramatic change in the second half and the Boks fell away badly, lacking in accuracy and intensity. The inability to take their scoring chances was worrying and they certainly lack the creativity of the Wallabies and the All Blacks on attack.

Frans Steyn will miss the Test against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth on Saturday because of a hamstring strain and Pat Lambie is an obvious replacement. But Steyn also looks out of condition and weighing in at 110kg — the same weight as Bok prop BJ Botha — and that is a concern.

Smit, De Villiers and Wallaby coach Robbie Deans all agreed that the Springboks will improve markedly in the weeks ahead. But time is not on their side and Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks is their last before they open the defence of their Rugby World Cup title against Wales in just less than a month.

Scorers:

South Africa: Penalties: Frans Steyn (1), Butch James (2). Australia: Tries: Pat McCabe. Penalties: James O’Connor (3).

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