Boks require accuracy as honeymoon ends

Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)

Johannesburg - The Springboks won their first match against Argentina comfortably enough but there will be a sharp focus on several areas that require improvement when the two times meet in their return Rugby Championship clash in Mendoza on Saturday. 

England were tough opponents in June but they were visiting South Africa and anyway the defeat in the last match of the series in Cape Town ensured that it ended on something of a hollow note, according to the supersport.com website.

Rassie Erasmus’ record as Bok coach reads three wins in five matches thus far, but it would be naive to ignore the caveat - all three of those wins were achieved at home. 

Tough though Mendoza is as a venue for the Boks - they have drawn and won by five points in the two matches they have played there in the Championship era - they should still be expected to win on Saturday. The advantage the Boks enjoyed at Kings Park at forward will be hard for the Pumas to overturn. 

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma conceded that his team faced an almost impossible task at the post-match press conference. 

“Maybe if some of them (the Bok forwards) get sick,” was how he responded to the question of what chance there was of his pack reversing what happened at Jonnson Kings Park. 

What this match does signify is the end of the honeymoon period for the Boks. Put a different way, this is the final dress rehearsal before the real thing.

The real judgement always starts when the Antipodean opposition come into view, and if Mendoza is considered a tough away venue, then Brisbane and Wellington are even tougher because the opponents will be classier. 

The Boks have been better organised under Erasmus than their predecessor, they have been focussed and composed, they have direction. There is a lot to be positive about.

But let’s not forget that this time last year we were being positive too. When they returned from Argentina 12 months ago they’d won every game played in 2017, and yet by the time the season drew to a close it was regarded as another failure. 

By Erasmus’ own admission, last week’s performance was far from perfect. The forwards played well, and are the undeniable strength of this team. Any side that can leave Pieter-Steph du Toit out of the starting unit has a lot going for it up front. He must have been close to man of the match last week. 

There were though even points of concern at forward, such as the lineouts, while the scrumming lost it’s power in the second half when the substitutions were made.

Ledesma appeared to draw some hope from that, and it is not surprising that these are the areas where Erasmus has made change - Franco Mostert will be back to call the lineouts, Wilco Louw has replaced Thomas du Toit as tighthead back-up. 

The biggest concern though is at the back. All six tries were scored by the backs, but the backs didn’t play well as a unit.

Handre Pollard was way too lateral at flyhalf and would not have been happy with his all-round performance, let alone his place-kicking.

Faf de Klerk was brilliant in patches and produced some try creating moments as well as scoring one of his own, but he was perhaps too individualistic.

The first impression from the Kings Park press box last week was that the South African No 9 should have been close to clinching the man of the match award.

A second glance on video though tells a different story - he too often chose the wrong options and Erasmus was right when he pointed out at the post match presser that perhaps he wasn’t as sharp as he usually is when it comes to getting to the breakdowns. 

That weakness - rustiness if you like - may be explained by the fact that De Klerk hadn’t played since the England series.

As a northern hemisphere based player, the last six weeks have been pre-season. He should be sharper in Mendoza and if he is Erasmus will breathe easier as he heads across the Indian Ocean next week to face the Wallabies and All Blacks. 

If you came in from Mars and were watching rugby for the first time in the opening round of the Championship, you’d have concluded that the halfbacks are one of the key differences between the All Blacks and the Boks.

The linking area between forwards and backs would at least partly explain the more clinical and ruthless disposition of the Kiwis when it comes to try scoring. 

But it is not just about the halfbacks. Erasmus says he has worked hard on the potential weaknesses in the Makazole Mapimpi make-up.

Last week Mapimpi played like someone who had spotted for an exam and then found that the questions posed were spot-on. He passed the examination. 

It would be naive to pretend though that his aerial skills and his all-round defensive skills are where they should be for him to be confident of facing the All Blacks.

Those who disagree should watch the video - Argentina didn’t get much quality ball but there were still a few occasions that Mapimpi looked vulnerable. Against the All Blacks that will be magnified. 

Australia and then New Zealand await on their home turf. The Boks need to get it right in their areas of potential weakness now or they could be in trouble when they get to the Antipodes.

This is the final dress rehearsal. They should win, but there are key areas that face an acid test and where they need to be more accurate.

Teams:

Argentina


15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.


Substitutes: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21, Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia


South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira


Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse

Read the story on SuperSport

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