South Africa played very poorly against Ireland. They appeared to be overconfident against a weakened Irish side, and I’m of the view that, subconsciously an air of complacency crept in.
But the biggest problem was that their skill execution let them down on the day. There were far too many unforced errors - knock-ons and turn-overs - conceded from general play.
On a positive note, the Springboks were dominant at set-phase, particularly the lineout. Victor Matfield is still the master of the art and did a great job of calling the lineouts and stealing ball on the opposition throw.
The Springboks also bossed the scrums, but were up against an under-strength Irish pack. I feel England will pose a truer test of South Africa’s scrummaging credentials on Saturday.
However, a point of concern was that the Irish bested the Boks in terms of physical commitment. This is of particular significance, as Heyneke Meyer’s men are a momentum-based side. Dominating the collisions is about attitude and being in the right frame of mind.
There is no question that the Springboks have evolved but, for me, the basis of their game remains the same. Fundamentally, the men in green and gold are reliant upon generating momentum beyond the advantage line, bossing the set-pieces and being extremely physical.
However, when the above is not achieved it has a domino effect on the Springbok backline.
In the press, halfbacks Francois Hougaard and Handré Pollard have copped a fair amount of flak for their performances. But I believe that neither of them enjoyed an armchair ride, especially as the Springboks were unable to generate quick front-foot ruck ball.
Hougaard, in particular, didn’t have a happy day. While he remains a really good player, Hougaard is not playing to his strengths, which involves him sniping around the fringes.
I had the privilege of coaching him in 2009 when we faced the British and Irish Lions, and he is lethal around the edges, but it has been a long time since I have seen him take on anybody.
I can understand Heyneke’s decision to want to give Cobus Reinach a run - Hougaard needs to work on improving his service, his box kicking and ability to manage the game - but at the same time, he needs to be given licence to have a go.
In my opinion, all three Springbok scrumhalves currently on tour are more the sniping type of nine rather than game managers.
There is no doubt that the Springboks miss the likes of Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar, both of whom have the ability to manage the game effectively from the number nine berth.
The way the Springboks play, they have to have a scrumhalf who can run the show.
The All Blacks are blessed in that they boast a number nine of the ilk of Aaron Smith, who is the most complete scrumhalf in world rugby.
Smith is multifaceted. The 25-year-old is dangerous around the edges, clears the rucks incredibly quickly, boasts an accurate, bullet pass and tremendous box kicking ability.
Owing to the type of nine that the Springboks have on this tour, I believe the onus of game management falls to the flyhalf.
While Pollard is a tremendous young player, Pat Lambie now has his chance on Saturday to prove that he has the capabilities of effectively managing a true Test match.
Having gone down to New Zealand, England will be up for this game like you can’t believe.
Stuart Lancaster has assembled a well-rounded, solid-looking side. They boast a good pack of forwards and as a consequence are more than proficient at the set-pieces and the maul.
There’s a huge amount at stake for both teams and the Test match is set to be a cracker.
For South Africa to prove victorious they will have to dominate the collisions, play the game in the right parts of the field and whenever points are on offer, they have to take them.
Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks
went 17 Tests unbeaten. Having served as Kings’ director of rugby, he is now
head coach of Edinburgh.
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