Guest writer Mike Bersiks takes a look at the Bok players and rates the game against Ireland.

Sounds a bit clichéd, but it really was a game of two halves. The Springboks were rubbish in the first forty, kicking aimlessly, and unable to build any momentum on attack because of dropped passes. One positive was that Ireland looked quite ineffective in attack, but Bok indiscipline allowed Jonathan Sexton too many easy shots at goal. The Bok forwards must have got a kick in the arse at halftime because they took control in the set piece and at the gain line after the break. Probably the most pleasing aspect of the second period was how the Bok defence once again rendered Ireland unable to seriously threaten the try they needed to win. My impression of the players individual performances:

15. Zane Kirchner – I’m not a fan but Kirchner had a good game. Solid under the high ball and a nice little sidestep and booming clearance from a restart in the second half. Kirchner’s type of game will do just fine on the heavier Northern Hemisphere fields but I guess my resentment of Kirchner lies more with his (lack of) qualities in attack. When Kirchner tries to run the ball it only highlights the gulf in class between him and the standout fullback in world rugby, Israel Dagg.

14. JP Pietersen – A little hard done by with a yellow card for a silly early tackle that came in the first half when the Boks only seemed capable of making error after error. If that tackle had been made in Durban you feel referee Wayne Barnes would only have penalised Pietersen, but the Irish crowd was baying for his blood. Had a couple of nice runs without ever really being able to break free – including a pearler of a hand-off on Sexton – and his defence was physical and up to scratch.

13. Jaco Taute – He’s come in for a lot of criticism but I like Taute at centre. He runs hard and looks for offloads to keep the attack alive and there was nothing wrong with his defence against the Irish. However, I do feel that Juan de Jongh can feel a bit short-changed by coach Heyneke Meyer. De Jongh deserves some game time on this tour given his Currie Cup form.

12. Jean de Villiers – The captain’s best game for the Boks since the series against England. He exploited some soft Irish defence in the inside channel by bashing his way through Sexton and Gordon D’Arcy a few times, giving the Boks some good front-foot ball.

11. Francois Hougaard – Didn’t see much ball although he was unlucky that one nice piece of footwork in the first half didn’t come to more when he wasn’t able to offload. Booted one great touchfinder. In defence he got stood up by the equally fleetfooted Keith Earls on one occasion but was good in the second half, making some important one-on one tackles.

10. Pat Lambie – Some very aimless punts upfield to start the game but got into it as the Bok forwards took control. Lambie’s distribution was good and he made a little line-break in the second half as his confidence grew. Also prominent in defence with 12 tackles made and none missed. Knocked over the kicks he should have got, and missed the hard ones at goal for a personal  tally of three penalties and a conversion. I would persist with him, and give him more licence to have a go at the line himself.

9. Ruan Pienaar – Quite a good game marked by a try when he dived over a ruck. Pienaar cleared the ball quickly and generally took the right options when he decided to run, kick or pass..

8. Duane Vermeulen – A workmanlike rather than standout performance but he did little wrong on the night. Didn’t get much ball in hand but defended well – tackle stat of 13/0. Another player that you feel will do well on the Northern hemisphere fields.

7. Willem Alberts –  Quite a few Irishman will wake up the morning with Alberts shaped bruises after another good display of crash tackling. He didn’t make too much impact with his ball carries in a tight game. I only wish that the Boks could think up a few good variations to get Alberts taking offloads on the shoulder of the ball carrier like the All Blacks do with Kieran Read rather than just bashing it up in the predictable pod.

6. Francois Louw – He can also feel pleased with his performance based more on workrate than anything flashy. Louw was a bit anonymous in a scrappy first half but stole some good ball in the second period as the Boks started to dominate the gain-line collisions. Top tackler on the day with stats of 16 made, none missed. Another player that needs to be used as more than just a battering ram to see his full value with ball in hand.

5. Juandre Kruger – Kruger didn’t play poorly but for me the jury is still out on him. He’s mobile and gets around the park well but his defence for a tight forward leaves a bit to be desired. The memory of Ben Alexander brushing him out the way to win the game for Australia in Perth lingers on and all of his tackles against opposition forwards seem to end in Kruger being driven backwards as he takes them to ground. His speciality is the line-outs but SA only threw one ball to him as number five jumper in the whole match.

4. Eben Etzebeth – Another good performance for the young ‘Yster’. Took most of SA’s line-out ball and stole one from Ireland. Threw himself about with the sort of relish for physical contact that we have come to expect. The only blemish I noticed was a ball getting stripped off him in contact close to Ireland’s line when SA looked poised to score.

3. Jannie du Plessis – He’s been one of SA’s most consistent performers in recent years and once again did a good job. Despite the fact that he’ll never be a truly destructive force at scrum time Du Plessis didn’t give anything away.

2. Adriaan Strauss – Workmanlike. Hit his jumpers at line-out time and did a good job in the loose overshadowing cousin Richardt for Ireland (c’mon northern hemisphere nations, have you no shame in your player pilfering?). My only criticism is that he carries the ball too upright, sometimes leading to turnovers.

1.  CJ van der Linde – On as a late replacement for Beast, CJ did ok against a below-par Irish scrum. If Mtawarira is not fit I’d feel more secure with Gurthro Steenkamp starting against Scotland, who have considerably better props.

17. Heinke van der Merwe – A surprise cap for the ex-Lion and he demolished his opponent in a first couple of scrums to milk a couple of penalties.

18. Pat Cilliers – Decent run off the bench to give Jannie Doep a breather.

19. Flip van der Merwe – Another penalty free cameo. I wonder if Heynecke has thought about a Flip at four and Etzebeth at five experiement?

20. Marcell Coetzee – One wonderful driving tackle in his time off the bench. Gives you workrate and full-blooded enthusiasm if nothing else.

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  1. Nice analysis Mike.

    Think there may be merit in your suggested 4/5 combination.

    It is interesting how the team evolves not by revolution but trial and error. The sign of a good coach. Recall that Schalk Burger has always been Meyer’s first choice skipper and Jean De Villiers a stand in for 2012.

    Interesting is that the evolution of leadership in the side as well.

    Heyneke was one who never had such a huge thing about leaders and he easily allowed his sides to transit captaincy roles from one player to the next. Everyone though that Anton Leonard was so crucial until Anton left and Joost stepped in, and then transitioned quickly out in favour of Gary Botha and was replaced by Victor Matfield.

    It is indicative of a developing maturity in the side that Adriaan Strauss is taking on leadership responsibilities.

    We must not lose from sight that the 1st XV has not been available to this coach due to injuries for the entire season.

    Also recall that this is a cobbled together back line missing TWO highly experienced Springboks and playing four players out of position and with one returning from injury after a four month lay off.

    All in all a good result that showed character developing in the side rather than a champagne explosion.

  2. If I may criticise a few things.

    Wish Kirchner will stop trying to flummox defences with his “trippe trappe trone”, he only succeeds in losing pace and has not yet beaten a defender by doing that.

    Jean de Villiers can still not complete a decent pass. How many forward passes has he done this season, I can remember about 5 off hand?

    I am wondering whether we don’t need a little more pace in our backrow, all three pllayers are bruisers, and we need someone to improve the balance there.

    I am really impressed with Etzebeth, his game has really improved, he stole a few line outs and in my opinion were more effective than Juandre Kruger, why not play Flip v d Merwe at 4 and Etzebeth at 5?

    Supporting lines is an issue, and we still tend to run into contact too much. Look for the support runner.

  3. I have been calling for Eben at 5 since the Stormers campaign this year. He is the future 5 for the Boks.

    I love the idea of Flip and Eben against the Scots.

  4. Reply to biltongbek @ 8:21 am:

    Couldn’t agree more with the pace in the back-row… and with lack of support-runners…

    The latter leads directly to why our players are oft caught isolated and there not being enough players clearing out on ball in quick succession in numbers… vicious circle on attack and break-down…

  5. Reply to DavidS @ 9:48 am:

    Doc du Plessis deserves a rest, so yes that does look good.

    But I would love to see Guthro back in a Bok jersey as well. Why this guy had to go to France when he was really becoming a major force boggles my mind.

    Strauss impressed me massively on Saturday with his leadership, pity for him that we have Bismarck, otherwise he would have been my starting hooker and captain.

  6. Excellent analysis MIKE – we need more of your
    contributions on RuggaWorld.

    Etzebeth: In fact stole TWO lineouts.

    Heinke: His first contact with the squad was
    the scrum as he came on. Interesting.

    JdV: I agree with you – he’s that type of
    player, always been. That’s what he gives
    you in midfield.

  7. Reply to Boertjie @ 1:06 pm:

    Bakkies stole plenty is his days… and Matfield had one of the highest work-rates out of any of the forwards in his last season… that’s what made them so good in tandem with guys like Danie who was the same…

    The best packs in the world have ‘two locks’ that can do it all… the Vickermans, Eales’, Sharpes, Johnsons… and now so too the youngsters are coming through like Etzabeth, all 3 of the AB locks etc etc…

    As for the term ‘enforcer’… well if everyone in the 22 is smashing rucks, counter-rucking like Malaka’s and putting in the big hits should they be near traffic… no need for ‘enforcing’…

  8. I have seem worse Bok teams win better against tougher Irish sides in Dublin.

    So I will not get excited over this win. Suddenly being able to come back in a game where you should never have trailed is sign of a good comeback?

    Its not. This game displayed, once more, some of the worst rugby I have seen a bok team dish up. We now build our pods in the 10 channel (they used to at least stand a few metres off) and are probably (if at all possible) more predictable against Ire than we were in RC.

    For those who orgasm at JdV’s straight running and ‘getting us over the advantage line’ go look at the opportunities outside when he opted to bash. Look and weep.

    We defended well. Yes they missed 3 of their biggest attacking weapons but we managed to keep them out. Great.

    Apart from that there is not a single aspect of our play that has improved.

  9. I see lowest score on Rugby365 is 6.5. Most player got 7 and up.

    Boks as it turns out were rather awe-inspiring.

  10. BUT

    Meyers noises about Saturday seem the right ones.

    De Jong in, JDV out, Taute 15. Add to this Coetzee to start ahead of the tractor and this Boks machine might just start life

  11. The problem with playing v d Merwe and Etsebeth is that one of them will have to be the LO captain and make the calls.

    Which one can do it?

    It seems to me that Meyer’s 1st choice for this job has always been Bekker, but his injuries had made Kruger a requirement. Notice that when Bekker plays, Kruger normally drops out of the 22 all together.

    You guys saw one player takes the balls and makes the steals and assume he did it all by himself. You are ignoring the guy who made the decision to go for the steal in the first place and the roles of timing and the lifters.

  12. Firstly HM on this tour is not, NOT, trying to build a great future he is only trying to get his win ratio up.

    It is obvious what he is doing. Sad but a reality of statistics.

    We were crap but give the Irish dues they came to battle and gave it all. They had us sussed in the first half.

    Still dont like our guys going to ground all the time, it allows the defence to setup and there we have pod bash I way through.

    Some variation in attack that guys like Aplon bring.

  13. As mentioned above, has any one seen Eben offload. Thinking about it now this really makes us predictable and turn overs easier because you know Willem or any other basher will go to ground.

    I have noted some sides in the tackle situation, the tackled player places the ball full arm length away form his body which keeps the ball away from the fetcher. The fetcher has to lean forward to get the ball which he has to over extend.

  14. Reply to Mug Punters Organisation of South Africa @ 12:17 am:

    Who are they going to off-load to when there are no support-runners?

    There-in lies the problem!

    What makes the Boks ‘predictable’ is that opposition pilferer’s know they are not going to get smashed in numbers at the break-down in quick-succession and cleared-out… same goes for opposition ball where I cannot remember a powerful counter-ruck at pace… this has unfortunately not changed since the 1/4 exit.

    And you can further add the above for the reason the Boks have zero pick-n-go at pace splitting opposition defence up the middle… with all the above the reason for no continuity with ball-in-hand and super-slow ball for the half-backs…

    That my friend is what needs to improve… not the selections!

  15. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 5:16 am: exactly. I thought HM would be a messiah, the great white hope, but so far its same same but different. I know see Pdiddy reasoning.

    I see school teams and provincial sides with support runners AT PACE, getting off loads.
    For me my biggest worry is still our centres. This has been an issue since, well since Keo wrote the white wing article bout 3 years ago.

    It is all about intent and our current game plan intent is to win and get the win ratio higher no matter what.

    No building for the future tour but mere survival.

    Robbie Deans for a role somewhere?

  16. Oudste,
    This post summs it up
    Boertjie says:
    November 12th, 2012 at 12:35 pm
    Reply to biltongbek @ 8:06 am:

    I don’t think there is a more to the point
    analysis than yours.
    It was obvious how the Boks struggled for
    continuity – because a lack of support
    Etzebeth is great. He’s played 8 tests. He
    has never passed or offloaded a ball.
    Ditto for most of the other forwards, and
    even backs.

    Nuff said

  17. @ 10. Craven

    I agree regarding Gurthro. He was one of our top players in the late PDivvy years, if not the best loosehead in the world at that time, and would have been one of the first guys I would have been on the phone to to play for the Boks from overseas – along with Frans Steyn and Pienaar – if I was Meyer. Nice to see him in the end of year squad and hopefully he’ll start against Scotland.

    I feel this new 23-man squad thing could really benefit us, due to the fact that SA are one of the countries that can select good props on the bench to keep up a 100% scrumming effort all game. At full strength I’d have Steenkamp – Beast rotating at 1 and Jannie Dup and possible Coenie at 3. The news laws could really hurt the likes of Australia.

  18. Reply to Mike Bersiks @ 2:48 pm:

    Jip, the Oz pack was demolished by the Frogs.
    We need Gurthro, if he still has his allround

    I wonder if they practise support runners and
    offloads in training?
    In the first half the Boks were as poor as
    in the away test vs the Pumas.
    I don’t see growth.

    As for Jean: One always hear that someone
    in the backline must straighten the attack.
    Isn’t this exactly what he does?
    Surely what lacks here is continuity when
    he goes to ground – and it shouldn’t ALWAYS
    be with a predictable ruck.

  19. “Reply to Mike Bersiks @ 2:48 pm:

    “The news laws could really hurt the likes of Australia.”

    I disagree… for all RSA’s ‘purported’ depth a in the front-row particularly TH… Australia have no quality depth issues at all… in fact they have more test match depth at TH than RSA…

    They have also been the masters of the 5/2 split the past two seasons due to their many utility backs… adding another bench option for them is a bonus…

  20. The fact that we don’t offload much to keep the attack going is something that has been bugging me the whole season. What’s the reason? Is it gameplan related because HM frowns on the team throwing ‘speculators’ or is it because the Boks don’t have the personnel who are comfortable with that style of play?
    I tend towards the second option. For instance if Kankowski was No 8 would we see more linking play between backs and forwards and offloads? I like the fact that Taute is in the mix now because the offload seems to be one of his weapons.

  21. Mike

    The not offloading thing comes from way before HM. Even Pdivvy did his nut because of SBW. That is not rugby I recall him saying.

    I’ve been advocating an offload type game for quite some time over here. As a current player myself I know I did a crap load of work on my own off-loading game and it is coming together nicely. I’m a lock – so if I can do it anyone can.

    Will try to upload a clip of a game the other day.

    The thing is about offloading you need support runners and it is not just going to happen in a flash. Need to train it.


  22. Reply to Methos The French Stormer @ 3:48 pm:

    “Need to train it.”

    And I think with that comes communication,
    so that a support runner is prepared for
    the pass.
    Surely there are always defensive gaps when
    two opponents tackle one player (maybe 3
    in the case of Ysterbet ) and he
    succeeds in offloading.

  23. I hear what you are saying re offloads. Basically, unless a lot of emphasis is placed on it at training, it’s not just going to happen regardless of the personnel.
    I would imagine that with the constant injury disruptions we’ve had this year it’s one of those things that HM has put on the back burner. A pity, because the ability to keep the attack going with a timely offload is the difference between a solid team like the Boks are at present and a great one like the All Blacks.

  24. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 1:53 am:

    Furthermore ‘off-loading’ is simply the evolution of ‘drawing the man in the pass’ and ‘leg driving in the tackle’… neither have been something that has been too evident in bok rugby the last several seasons…

  25. I think those of you who pine for off-load rugby are going to disappointed.

    I cannot remember the Bulls playing off-load rugby in well…….not as long as I can remember.

    And certainly not under Meyer.

  26. Reply to Timeo @ 3:33 am:

    I doubt anyone is pining for ‘off-loading’ itself per-se… but a bit more variation with ball-in-hand ie the capability of off-loading once driving in the tackle is being twarted, support runners and cleaning out with zeal as a unit if the ball goes to ground…

    This season the Boks are the only team other than the All Blacks that has spent more time in the opposition’s 22 thanks to their tactical kicking game… the difference between the two is what happens during that period… hence the above…

  27. Reply to Duiwel @ 10:04 am:

    And that was with much of the current squad “bolstered” with some of the mythical players we apparently are missing this year (Frans Steyn, Beast, Bismarck, Bakkies, Matfield and Juan Smith).

    Team that played against Scotland in 2010:

    Z Kirchner; G Aplon, F Steyn, J de Villiers, L Mvovo; M Steyn, F Hougaard; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, B Botha, V Matfield (capt), D Stegmann, J Smith, R Kankowski.

    Replacements: A Strauss, CJ van der Linde, F van der Merwe, W Alberts, R Pienaar, P Lambie, A Jacobs

  28. Reply to Timeo @ 3:33 am:

    IMO they do not have to play an all out “off-load” game but at least when it is on they can try an off-load to finish off a move where they have already breached the gain-line instead of going to ground and allowing the defense to set up again…

  29. Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 1:08 pm:

    I’m not against an off-load game, I just don’t think it will feature much in Meyer’s plans.
    Perhaps we’ll see some players doing what you’re suggesting as soon as the Boks become more comfortable with what they are doing and gain confidence. For now conservatism will rule because the Boks are very much in “try not lose mode”.

  30. Reply to Timeo @ 2:29 pm:

    agree – it has a lot to do with communication within the team and confidence.

    But the option still needs to be their – you can’t off-load to someone that is not on your shoulder and here HM needs to work on the running lines of support runners.

  31. Have to be honest, watching Reunion last night, they were reviewing the games on the weekend. ABs, France and Argentina were running the ball, creating space and letting the ball do the work in the highlights they showed.

    I cringed when they got to the Bok game. How come we are the only winning team who looked like we belong in the Stone Age rugbywise? They were struggling to say something positive about the game, but they did try.

    We seem to be clueless when it comes to running rugby and creating space for our runners to benefit from.