Boks: long, arduous task lies ahead

2015-08-05 06:00

AFTER losing two consecutive rugby Tests in just eight days, the Springboks, though playing some exciting stuff in patches in those 160 minutes, must still be scratching their heads for the answer to their lack of success.

Page back to Brisbane where, leading 20-10 with 20 minutes’ play remaining, poor replacement decisions by coach Heyneke Meyer played a major role in the Springboks’ undoing. Now move on to Jo’burg’s Ellis Park.

The scenario was much the same. After 10-10 at halftime the Boks, as in the previous Test, were playing some enterprising rugby. Early in the second half they led 17-10. Dominant in most phases of the game, it seemed they were heading for a comfortable victory.

But by 74 minutes on the clock they were desperately clinging to a narrow 20-17 lead. The situation hadn’t been improved by the substitution of industrious young lock Lood de Jager by Flip van der Merwe, but worse still was to follow for the Boks. It was one of the oldest tricks in the game and came at a New Zealand lineout.

Now they don’t call Richie McCaw among the finest loose-forwards and captains New Zealand has ever produced for nothing. And what he did with just six minutes to play underlined that belief. He called for a conventional lineout with one difference – a somewhat wide gap separating the front jumpers from those in the rear. The Boks were forced to follow suit. Just what McCaw wanted, the formation allowing him to ghost through that gap and score almost without a hand impeding his progress. That was it. Game over...

Er, well, not quite. Down to 14 men at this stage due to the sin-binning of Sam Whitelock for a dangerous tackle, the Kiwis must have been delighted when because of injuries to his front row, Mayer was forced, after referee Gerome Garces had checked, to live with the rugby parasite known as the uncontested scrum.

This, of course, was all the referee, who throughout controlled the match with a firm but fair hand, could do in the circumstances, and ironically in so doing brought a sudden stop to the Boks’ domination of this area of play. Mama mia, what a disaster! From then on, it was mostly all downhill – the set-scrums area reduced to the intensity of a girls’ basketball friendly.

In other areas, however, there was much to admire about the Boks’ performance, both among the backs and up-front, where skipper Schalk Burger, hurling himself into the fray, did his utmost to keep things going. Among the backs fullback Willie le Roux produced moments of silky skill and excitement, while Handre Pollard and Ruan Pienaar improve at halfback with every outing. Best of all is the continuing excitement the young midfield partnership of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, who topped a polished performance with his first Test try.

But unless the lads in green and gold can learn between now and September to put the entire jigsaw together with the kind of magic the Kitch Christie-coached team managed in celebrating South Africa’s re-entry into world rugby in 1996, the World Cup this year may well prove a bridge too far. Oh, yes, it can be done all right – but a huge mountain of work lies ahead

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