Boks must recycle balls faster

2012-08-20 00:00

THE Springboks started with a bang, but finished with a whimper in beating the Argentinians 27-6 in their Rugby Championship opener at Newlands on Saturday evening.

The Springboks out-muscled the Pumas in the opening quarter with their big forwards, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee and Eben Etzebeth, prominent and even the early loss of influential hooker Bismarck du Plessis did not offer the Argentinians immediate relief.

Morné Steyn drifted into a gap to fashion an early try for fullback Zane Kirchner and Coetzee plunged over from the back of a driving maul as the Boks led 20-3 after 27 minutes.

With lock Andries Bekker towering over the lineouts, and the Bok defence secure, the Argentinans seldom threatened and they trailed 6-20 at the break.

The Argentinians improved in the second session, but missed three early goalable penalties in four minutes and it was the Boks who scored the only points of an untidy half when Steyn’s pin-point kick to the corner found a leaping Bryan Habana for the third try. Steyn, who succeeded with all five of his kicks — three from the touchline — again converted and the Boks had 23 minutes to nail down a bonus point for four tries.

They failed miserably as the Pumas, on half-a-dozen occasions, turned over their possession when the Boks were on attack.

Coach Heyneke Meyer said that Bismarck du Plessis’s excellent work at the breakdown was missed, and while he had a point, the Boks were too slow in clearing out at the tackle and this cost them frontfoot possession and a valuable bonus point.

“At the breakdown not getting the recycling we wanted to achieve was a problem,” said Meyer. “We definitely missed Bismarck; not just in ball protection, but if you look at the pack he’s also one of the more experienced at present and a leader there. He’s also renowned as a great ball-stealer.

“But we need more of a team effort at breakdown, to be more physical there. They were all over us at breakdown; probably didn’t roll away and we didn’t handle it on the day. We need to step up and be more clinical in that area. It is a huge blow, losing Bismarck, but Adriaan Strauss is a quality hooker and a good leader as well, so it’s nice to have him.

“Argentina did very well on defence and some of their tactics paid off, like their rushed defence in the midfield. They also competed very well under the high ball and at the breakdowns. Many of their players have played in Europe, where there’s a strong focus on the breakdown battle, and this expertise was evident during the match.”

Meyer said he was looking for a marked improvement in Mendoza, some 1 000 km west of Buenos Aires, where the Boks next play the Pumas. “We need to recycle the ball much quicker at the breakdown. That’s one of the main things we need to look at. We want more competition at the lineouts. There were times where we competed well, but it can improve.’

Meyer praised Steyn and lock Andries Bekker.

“Morné looked very good at training and proved his quality in this test. Andries also impressed during the lineouts and in general play. He wants to step out of Victor Matfield’s shadow, and I think this test was a step in the right direction.”

Fullback Kirchner and wing Lwazi Mvovo were secure under the many high balls and Steyn, back to his best kicking form, enjoyed himself. Francois Hougaard did nothing wrong at scrumhalf, but did seem to pose more of a threat when shifted to the left wing in the last quarter, while replacement hooker Adriaan Strauss, though less effective than Du Plessis in the close exchanges, kept popping up as a support runner in broken play.

A disappointment for Sharks supporters was number eight Keegan Daniel. The game just did not run his way and he was unable to express himself on attack.

Meyer finally replaced him with the heavier Jacques Potgieter in the second half and it would be no surprise if the Bok coach retained the Bulls flank for what will be a fiercely physical game in Mendoza on Saturday, with the faster Daniel used off the bench.

The Argentinians made a number of unforced errors in the first half, but they will have taken some confidence from their second half showing, when they conceded only seven points and had the better of the Boks at the breakdown. No one tried harder than their captain and number eight, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who later said that the high intensity of the contest had surprised his players.

“But we are here to learn and we will get better. I’m proud because my players never gave up,” said Lobbe.

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