Guest writer Mike Bersiks gives us some insight on the Bok performance against England.
Given that the Kiwis came spectacularly unstuck against England this weekend I publish Mike Bersiks’ piece on the performance of the Boks against England in the preceding week.
I can’t do a player by player look at the England game as I watched it at work with one eye on the screen and would have missed too much to be fair to the guys. Instead I’m going to give a few more general thoughts about the match and tour in general.
The thing that immediately strikes me about the Twickenham Test is the English indignation about the defeat and the performance of their team. Criticisms of England include:
- The coach picking an out of form flyhalf when a new young talent is knocking on the door.
- The game was lost due to missed kicks, including one relatively easy one that really should have been knocked over at this level.
- Despite a territorial and possession advantage, an inability to break down a more disciplined opposition defence.
- When breaks do occur the players involved are usually isolated without support runners, and seem startled by their success, not appearing to know how to round things off.
- Despite a blood and thunder performance by the forwards the possession won is often squandered by poor kicks ahead or handling errors.
Sound familiar? These are all criticisms that have been laid at the Springbok/Heynecke Meyer door throughout the season. The feeling I got throughout the match was that despite having less ball the Boks were a little bit more effective at making inroads into England territory and creating kickable penalties. Lambie knocked everything over and South Africa’s defence was once again superb, scrambling effectively and able to handle pretty much anything a one-dimensional England threw at us. It’s the kind of feeling that I’m sure New Zealand and Australia supporters often have after another win over the Boks. Nick Mallet made a good point after the match on Super Sport. “England couldn’t beat a clearly tired Bok side missing several key players to injury at home. What hope do they have in the future if this relatively young Bok side grows in stature as we expect them to?” Fair point methinks, although the margin of victory was razor thin as it often is at the highest level.
So I take my cap off to the Boks and the forwards in particular for pulling this one off. The usual suspects (Alberts, Louw, Vermeulen, Etzebeth) were great in workrate and defence and they were aided by good games from Gurthro Steenkamp and Juandre Kruger as England ran into a brick wall with their pick and go game. Despite a few blapsies from Ruan Pienaar the “kick for territory and think about having a go later” gameplan worked pretty well in the weather conditions. And, despite the rain bucketing down at Twickers the Bok backs did seem keen to have a go with the scraps of possession they got. From what I saw there were good contributions in this area from JP Pietersen, Pat Lambie and Francois Hougaard, although the Bok midfield still needs something extra to spark it. Whether that is the addition of Frans Steyn and Jaco Taute or to play on firmer, drier fields is yet to be seen.
As a whole the tour has to be seen as a reasonable success for coach Meyer’s pragmatic approach. A strong set-piece and kicking game is always going to win you more games than it loses in northern hemisphere conditions and the Boks still seem to have a measure of mental and physical superiority over the European sides. Ultimately Meyer will be judged on whether the Boks can take that next step and win the tight ones in the Rugby Championship against Australia and New Zealand, teams the Boks sometimes have a physical edge over, but presently lag behind in technique and self-belief.
Some Bok supporters will point to the big victories of years gone by over these teams and label the tour a failure. This tour seems to have conspired against the Boks taking the fabled “next step” and putting a side to the sword with All Black-like efficiency. The Boks are notoriously slow starters sometimes and large chunks of the team were possibly still in Currie Cup mode in the first half against Ireland. The Boks were genuinely rubbish in that first 40 minutes, but hit back in the second 40 with a good driving maul and held their lead with some solid defence. For me the Scotland Test was the most disappointing on tour. The chance of a big win at Murrayfield were looking good when the Boks went 21-3 ahead early in the second half against Scotland. There had been plenty of “maak sag voor” in that first 50 minutes, but the Boks then inexplicably went to sleep. Although Scotland are presently not a good enough side to break the Boks down, South Africa had to rely on their very good defensive game to ease to a 21-10 win. The England Test was always going to be a tight one in the rain, and was won by the bounce of a ball and some great defence. That extra gear that the Boks were unable to find in the Scotland game is the most worrying factor, because for me that’s what’s been missing virtually the whole season (except, perhaps against Australia at Loftus). What’s missing is that backline subtlety, that linking play with forwards and backs handling together – the knock-out blow that is required to finish off against a better team.
BOK SQUAD ON TOUR
Outside Backs: Kirchner’s frailties in attack weren’t exposed on the heavy fields so he looked good, playing to his strengths of catching high balls well and booming clearances away. We all know JP Pietersen is world class and I was impressed by what we got to see of Hougaard as a wing. He is a slippery customer and defends well. Meyer clearly doesn’t trust Mvovo to do a defensive job in a tight game, and from what I’ve seen I don’t blame him. A pity not to get to see the likes of Rhule and Mapoe in action, but hopefully they will start to see time off the bench in 2013.
Centres: Not much to write home about here. Jean de Villiers is starting to look like a crash-ball clone of Wynand Olivier so it’s hard to see him keeping the number 12 jersey if Frans Steyn gets back to form. Hard to rate Juan de Jongh and Jaco Taute as both didn’t have much to do except tackle. The lack of creativity in midfield is one of the biggest concerns right now.
Flyhalves: A difficult tour to judge Lambie on. He was picked to spark the backline but these three Tests were all about the forwards and defending well. He kicked well enough for posts, showed some deft touches with the boot in the England and Scotland Tests and tackled well. Meyer went back to Morne Steyn on the bench which isn’t good news for Elton Jantjies. I’d prefer to see Jantjies there in an impact role as he’s a guy who could pull off a piece of brilliance to win a Test. He is perceived as a suspect defender and this probably counted against him.
Scrumhalves: Only Ruan Pienaar was used and this was a bit of a mixed bag from him. He kicked a lot to take the pressure of rookie flyhalf Pat Lambie, but his service wasn’t that great and despite the try against Ireland we didn’t see too many breaks.
Loose forwards: The trio of Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw dovetailed well in defence and turned over quite a bit of ball. Not much to write home about in attack apart from a few charges from Alberts. It would be nice to see Louw enhance his growing reputation as an opensider with some good linking play with the backs. Marcell Coetzee always gave the Boks a few kamikaze tackles coming off the bench but there is definitely room in the mix for a more cerebral, offloading loose forward. Meyer probably hopes it will be an in-form Pierre Spies, but I’m not so sure.
Locks: Eben Etzebeth dominated the England line-out, further growing an impressive lock CV in his debut year. Give me two Etxzebeths in the second row and I could take over the world! In the absence of Andries Bekker, Juandre Kruger performed adequately while Flip van der Merwe played a bit part of the bench.
Front row: Adriaan Strauss hogged 95% of the hookers duties, and performed well, while it seems that Schalk Brits may have leapfrogged Chiliboy Ralepelle in the pecking order. Is Chili still carrying an injury? Nice comebacks from Gurthro Steenkamp and Heinke van der Merwe, while Jannie du Plessis performed adequately despite carrying a number of niggles. CJ van der Linde looks finished, but in Pat Cilliers the Boks seem to have an adequate backup tighthead. It’ll be interesting to see if the Coenie Oosthuizen tighthead experiment works, because with Beast and Gurthro, he is surplus to requirements at loosehead.