Boks’ poor defence let the slicker, fitter All Blacks overwhelm them

2013-10-07 00:00

THE Springboks were impressive with the ball, but woeful without it, and this cost them any chance of lifting the Rugby Championship trophy at Ellis Park on Saturday evening.

The All Blacks, ruthless in attack, fitter and meticulously organised, overcame the hostile conditions and silenced the 64 000 crowd with their sublime rugby in a 38-27 win at the spiritual home of South African rugby.

But they were helped by the Springboks who showed an attacking side in scoring four tries for a bonus point, but forgot about their defence, a traditional strength of their game. Against the most effective attacking unit in world rugby, that is fatal.

Three of the All Blacks’ five tries were the results of a series of missed tackles, while the Springboks placed themselves under massive pressure by hardly catching a high ball all evening. And that was strange. Coach Heyneke Meyer has kept banging on about how effective the All Blacks are in chasing their high kicks yet the Springboks appeared to have no plan on how to deal with the threat.

The All Blacks, in contrast, feared the powerful South African lineout maul but they found an effective counter and flank Liam Messam played a major role in disrupting their drive and turning over possession.

The Springboks were also poor in receiving the kick-offs. Their scrum and line­out suffered after the 50th minute when Meyer, in what was clearly a pre-determined move, rejigged his front-row, replacing combative hooker Bismarck du Plessis and brother Jannie as they prepared for a five-metre scrum against seven forwards on the All Black line.

Meyer in his two years as Springbok coach has been astute and rational, but this change was illogical and a peeved Bismarck du Plessis had almost to be dragged from the field.

There were brief moments when the All Blacks appeared vulnerable as they, too, made defensive errors. Backrowers Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw both exposed the All Blacks out wide before off-loading for Bryan Habana to score a brace in the opening quarter and Willie le Roux and Jean de Villiers broke through tackles to score their second-half tries.

It was De Villiers’s determined effort on 60 minutes, running through replacement flyhalf Beauden Barrett and Ma’a Nonu to score, which left the Ellis Park crowd pinching themselves. The Boks had been first to their bonus point, they led 27-24 and altitude and jet lag would surely hit the All Blacks in the final quarter.

But the dream quickly became a nightmare as the All Blacks dominated the rest of the game. Barrett immediately made amends for his missed tackle by running through the porous Bok midfield for the bonus point try to settle the Rugby Championship title. Man-of-the-match Kieran Read added a fifth to seal an excellent All Black victory, one that leaves the world champions unbeaten in two years of the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks suffered two injury losses with Habana (hamstring), after 22 minutes, and brawny flank Willem Alberts (neck), on half time, leaving the field while the All Blacks had two yellow cards — Messam for a repeated ruck infringement and prop Ben Franks for a swinging arm to prop Connie Oosthuizen’s jaw.

Read took the man-of-the-match award, but it could have gone to either captain Richie McCaw, who played a full 80 minutes after returning from a four-week injury break, or Messam.

The Springboks, even in defeat, had their heroes and none stood taller than 21-year-old lock Eben Etzebeth. He took his lineout ball and made a huge contribution on attack and defence, highlighting the lack of impact made by fellow lock Juandré Kruger, who went missing in action.

There were again strong performances from Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw, captain Jean de Villiers was strong and surprisingly elusive in midfield and enterprising Willie le Roux kept sniping at the All Black defence.

It was a pulsating, frantic battle, played at a frenetic pace with both teams, and excellent Welsh referee Nigel Owens, contributing to the cut-and-thrust rugby.

But it was never a classic if only because the Springboks’ glaring limitations on defence and many basic errors detracted from the overall quality of the contest.


South Africa: Tries: Bryan Habana (2), Willie le Roux, Jean de Villiers. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalty: Steyn

New Zealand: Tries: Ben Smith, Liam Messam (2), Beauden Barrett, Kieran Read. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (3), Barrett (2). Penalty: Barrett

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