Hapless Boks hand victory to All Blacks on a plate

2008-08-17 00:00

THE Springboks, quite literally, played into eager All Blacks hands in losing Saturday’s Test at Newlands 19-0, and the world champions now have little hope of adding the Tri-Nations title to their trophy cabinet.

The Springboks, without a genuine fetcher in their loose trio, were predictably cleaned out by All Black flank Richie McCaw and his cronies at the breakdown and that cost them any chance of winning a Test which was there for the taking.

The Boks now have to beat the Wallabies twice — on successive Saturdays at King’s Park and Ellis Park — and rely on the Australians also beating the New Zealanders in Brisbane on September 13 — to take the title. You will get long odds on that happening.

The All Blacks, at Newlands, defended superbly around the fringes, but created little of their own — not that they had to as the Boks presented them with possession and tries, gift-wrapped, which allowed them to seal a comfortable win.

The Boks lost because they failed to protect their ball. They had the edge in the set-pieces, but their untidy efforts to keep the ball alive merely provided the All Blacks with a steady stream of turnover possession.

They also lacked direction, often playing the ball wide instead of sucking in the All Blacks with a more direct approach. And so it was that we saw an intriguing reversal of roles with the Springboks, often dangerously and from deep in their own half, seeking to counter-attack while the All Blacks played a tactical, territorial game around the boot of flyhalf Dan Carter.

The Boks, particularly in the first half, had their moments and were more threatening than the All Blacks.

Bismarck du Plessis, Jean de Villiers, JP Pietersen, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana and Pierre Spies all broke the All Black defensive lines on occasions, but their promising moves died at the breakdowns.

And therein lay the Bok problem. The Boks, almost to a man, ran until they were tackled, ignoring supporting runners and overlaps, and then went to ground with the ball.

If they had some some control at the breakdown, if they had, for instance, a fetcher like the Lions’ Cobus Grobbleaar and arrived at the stoppage in numbers, then at least they could have recycled possession, created momentum and allowed their big back-row forwards — Juan Smith, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies — to run off an advancing platform.

But the Boks could not retain possession at the tackle and, on a few occasions, conceded turnovers within a metre from the All Black line.

The heavily-penalised Springboks, with good reason, were convinced that Australian referee Matt Goddard was looking only at their indiscretions at the tackle and ignoring the goings-on of the streetwise All Blacks.

That might have been, but it was not a day for excuses. There were too many holes to be picked in the Bok game to worry too much about where the referee went wrong.

It was the most frustrating of Test matches for the Springbok supporters. At half-time, and only trailing 0-5 to an early All Black try — they were also helped by a series of fluffed Carter goalkicks — the Boks were strongly in contention in spite of the many errors. The much-vaunted All Black scrum was under pressure, the Bok lineout was steady without being dominant while their powerful runners were finding holes in the visitors’ defence.

But the turnovers and lack of accuracy continued after the break, and when Bryan Habana, their most dangerous attacker, left the field with an injury and coach Peter de Villiers replaced their most physical forward and effective tackler Schalk Burger with Luke Watson, one sensed the game was slipping away.

Moments later Carter found a hole in the Bok defence and his try at the posts (12-0) ended the contest.

There was still time, though, for Jean de Villiers, under pressure from a quick Francois Steyn lineout, to make one of the better passes of the day. The pity was that it went straight to All Blacks replacement hooker Keven Mealamu and he doddled over for the third New Zealand try (19-0).

The Springboks, right to the end, had played the perfect hosts.

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