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So how were those Boks against England


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.


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.

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  1. I have revised my opinion a little on attacking play by SA.

    For quite some time I was trying to look at Morne Steyn as the culprit to our backline, but after watching the November matches I have come to a conclusion that it is further ul that our problem lies.

    As much as our power forwards crash the ball up there isn’t a collective attmept to clear the ruck. What I mean by that is when you compare the physicality we put into defensvie rucks bu driving players back, we aren’t doing it on attacking rucks.

    If we put the same intensity into our attacking rucks by rucking past the player on the ground with the ball, we firstly set the defending team on the back foot, but also put their last line of feet further away from accessing the ball.

    Pienaar in my view does not do the number one priority of a scrumhlaf quickly enough. We need a terrier or Jack Russell that pounces on those ruck balls with accuracy and speed to get the ball to the fly half in quick time.

    Call it momentum ball if you will, but we aren’t getting it.

    Hopefully that will be a priority for Meyer in the new year.

  2. Pienaar in my view does not do the number one priority of a scrumhlaf quickly enough. We need a terrier or Jack Russell that pounces on those ruck balls with accuracy and speed to get the ball to the fly half in quick time.

    True that.

    I have to agree that one does not “just replace” a Fourie Du Preez.

    But given that we use our scrumhalf as a clearing and play maker tactical caller – result is that our clearing is slower and the scrummie has a heavy burden on him to ensure that play happens off him instead of off the flyhalf like NZ does.

    Do we have a scrummie at the moment who can fulfil that role?

    I know there are those who suggest Broome, but my personal view is that at the moment we simply do not have a good international quality scrumhalf and our coaches should concentrate on shifting play call to a different backline leader or have a simple playbook, whilst ensuring our own scrumhalves are technically capable in their position with fast clearance, a quick long clearance pass capability left and right and a good snap box kick.

    Until then our 12 or 10 or even 8 should be calling plays.

  3. I think Meyer’s biggest challnge in selection next yearwill be to find the right scrummie. He mist get all the Franchise coaches together and explain his needs in a scrummie to them, then get them to challenge their scrumhalves to prove who deserves a spot.

    That is the only way.

  4. Reply to Morné @ 12:59 pm: But them Hougie must not rty to be Fourie du Preez.

    He needs to focus on ruck clearing and snipes next year, as David says, ket someone else call the moves and make the decisions.

    Hougaard is not a natural kicker and hense he loses too much of his natural instinct.

    I don’t care if he never kicks for a full season, just focus on those two things.

  5. Reply to biltongbek @ 12:08 pm:

    I’ve been saying similar all season dating back to the RWC exit…

    No support-runners = nobody to off-load to, attackers getting isolated, nobody there to hit/clean rucks en-masse in quick succession = no quick-ball…

  6. He was the find of the season in 2010 in a disappointing 3N year for the Boks.

    He has it in him to be A GREAT but like FDP didn’t try to be Joost (Joost was a far better ball carrier than FDP), Hougaard needs to not be the “next Fourie Du Preez” but rather the “first Francois Hougaard”.

    If we go the other way and decide on an anonymous 9 he needs to understand his sole role is clearing the ruck fast either left or right with an accurate bullet pass.

    Bryce I confirm your saying we’re not cleaning rucks properly. Fact is all opposition players from 1 – 15 are all taught to tackle, leap up and contest. You need fast runners to clear those contestors out so your ball can be cleared safely and quickly. Similarly you need support runners with your defence to smash into opposition cleaners to contest the ball not just on the ground like a fetcher but by cleaning out the fetcher trying to secure the ball.

    I actually think it’d be best if somehow Janno Vermaak can be released from the Bulls to get game time with someone else next year in SR. His playing at BBs is the same as the way the Sharks recently had 4 Bok props and 2 Bok hookers in their side… there should be situations where national considerations override regional ones – still not convinced by the centralized contracting system.

  7. As blasphemous as this sounds, Morne Steyn is actually a fucking good ball distributor when he does pass. Witness his ability in 2009 to put players into space like JDV, Habana, JPP and at the Bulls this year making Bjorn Basson and Zane Kirchner leading try scorers.

    Steyn at 12?

  8. Not sure if Morne should play at 12, I like Frans Steyn at 12 for a number of reasons, he is strong, made some lovely passes and offloads during the year and can kick if needed. I still think jean de villiers must now step back, it isn’t that he isn’t good anymore, but Habana and Pietersen need to see more ball, and I just don’t think de Villiers is the man.

    I would like to see Pietersen at 13 with Frans steyn, they will. Be formidable in attack and defence, why not try a youngster at 14?

  9. Here’s something I’d like people to weigh in on.

    Whenever an isolated player is tackled, 9 out of 10 times he will hold on to the ball and be penalized.

    To me it seems that whenever the choice is between a penalty and a turnover that it would be poor decision to choose the penalty. A penalty after all is a turn-over 30m up field or 3 points. The only place where hold on would make sense is close to your goal line when your team is going backwards and you are choosing 3 points over 7.

    Then why are tackled players not coached to place the ball and let go? What am I missing?

  10. Pietersen was SA’s outstanding player of SR at 13/14… should we mess with perfection?

    Maybe rather see to blood a new 13? Taute perhaps?

    Frans Steyn is as selfish with the ball in hand as Jean De Villiers.

  11. Furthermore a lot of energy is wasted in clearing out the fetcher, often helping him to secure the ball by popping him back on his feet. The newly popular sideways clearing can be pretty ineffectual also.

    Why not concentrate on stripping the fetcher. A player leaning forward with both hands on the ball has very little control over it. If the first arriving player sticks an arm between the arms of the fetcher he can simply strip the fetcher of the ball after it is picked up.

  12. Reply to Timeo @ 3:15 pm:

    The rules say the player tackled may unhindered place the ball before the ruck contesting players may try to take the ball away. So players are coached to hold on and place the ball backwards to their arriving support players to seal off and be played by the scrumhalf.

    Unfortunately that rule has never ever ever been played by any referee in the world ever.

    So your theory makes sense.

  13. Re Placing the ball:

    When a guy gets tackled he shouldn’t just flop to the floor and lie there and meekly and try to place the ball. No – check Richie McCaw – when he goes to ground he snaps back with the ball towards his own side – very few players is able to steal the ball off him. Also – just don’t allow the fetcher to get his hands on the ball – keep moving it around. Don’t roll towards your your line – but move when you are on the ground. If the fetchers gest over you move the ball. Roll towards your side, snap towards the side or your closest player. Trust me – I try to fetch a lot and it frustrates the hell out of you when you are over the guy and you can’t get your hands on the ball – because you only have a second or not even that before the cavalry arrives and they clean you out. You only need to buy that one second.

    Also when you do place the ball further away from your body chances are that the guy will have his feet behind your back, so when he leans over you to get his hands on the ball and you do the snap, he will overextend himself and if one of his team mates come to help him and try and clean he will fall over and you will get a penalty.

    SA needs to get to the ruck in numbers – 3 or 4 players should arrive as soon as the carrier arrive and clean the opposition players – making the ball available quickly – when we do this we will hopefully see less of these kak 3 man pods that most of the time don’t even get over the advantage line.


  14. Reply to Methos The French Stormer @ 12:03 pm:

    Those are good points, but once the fetcher has grabbed the ball, the tackled player almost never let goes and it almost always results in a penalty. It seems for most teams, giving up a penalty is preferred to giving up a turnover. What’s the reasoning for that choice?

  15. Reply to DavidS @ 8:38 am:

    I have argued for Morne at 12 for some time.

    He is the only guy who can pass accurately to both sides and due to his size will look for space instead of contact.

    My 2nd choice 12 will be Lambie.

    I would like to see us use combinations next year in various games. Play Vermaak/Jantjies/Lambie in some games and Hougie/Goosen/Morne in others and ensure that by 2015 you have 6 players who can step in at any time. 4 great kickers in there as well. I would also play De Jong and Habana both as 13’s moving forward.

    Habana because he has tought himself the skill of popping up in the right place and De Jong because he simply breaks the line at speed.

    Take JdV to wing and play Fransie 15.

  16. With JdV/JPP and Fransie at the back we wont lack experience and an experienced back 3, who all happen to be tall players, is a huge plus.



    JdV Steyn JPP

    Then you can pick 3 major impact players on the bench

  17. Timeo

    Because the most dangerous ball for attack is turnover ball. The team that are was on attack are still placed in attacking mode – ie deeper etc than what they would be on defense. For example the 3 or 4 forwards are bucnched next to the ruck waiting for the ball to come out to crash it again, 2 or 3 are on their way to join the ruck still instead of spread out accross the field. Dog legs appear, and then the fetcher quickly popsor recycles the ball and the other team attacks and you have holes in defense etc.

    If you hold onto the ball you get a penalty against you, but it rarely gets played quickly because the other forwards arrive and clean the kak out of the fetcher, the ref blows the penalty, a pile of bodies is on the floor and the ball is dead. You take the penalty against you and they kick into touch, you have the chance to reset your defensive lines, compete in the lineout – so you have a 20 to 30% chance of getting the ball back, or them knocking the ball in the lineout or skew throw in etc.

    Also a lot of times the fetcher isn’t really competing for the ball – he just gets his hands on it and don’t really try to steal it. He just wants the penalty. So he is in fact pressing the ball against the the tackled player.


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

    You make a good case for holding on.

    It would be interesting to see how many points teams give up due the turn-over vs. the penalty.

    Top level kickers will land 70% of kicks inside the 50, so a penalty inside your own half, cost you an average of 2 points. That means the break-even point is, if teams score at least one try from every 4 turn-overs in the same area.

  19. Pathetic
    AB hav one off day on twenty odd games
    And we forget how idiotic we play
    And cry new dawn

  20. Duiwel, are you allways in such a bad mood? Come now, it’s the season of hope and love. Let those comments be a bit more happy.

  21. Ja boertjie, might be, but often one makes it seem a lot worse than it is if you allways feel grumpy and you are allways looking for the negatives. That’s just my personal opinion, take it dont take it, but personally I believe that some christmas cheer would do him a world of good.

  22. Reply to Duiwel @ 5:40 pm:
    Niemand het “new sawn” geskree nie.

    Die punt is egter

    NS v Engeland die jaar het ‘n rekord loesing op die lyf geloop.

    Ons het drie wedstryde teen hulle gespeel en nooit gelyk asof ons een van hulle kon verloor tensy ons nie Engeland die wedstryd gegee het nie (en ons het op twee geleenthede probeer).

    Feit is dit plaas perspektief op ons vertonings die jaar. Ons is No. 2 by die IRB ten spyte van ‘n swak jaar.

    En ons speel nog nie tot ons volle potensiaal nie.

    Stel jou voor ons “kliek” volgende jaar wat gaan ons vermag?

    Is dit ‘n “New Dawn”? Nee

    Is dit iets om oor na te dink? Ja.

  23. Dit gaan nie oor ‘n New Dawn nie, maar om perspektief te verkry oor hoe ons nasionale span vertoon het.

    Miskien begin ons groots dink, want on is ontevrede met #2 posisie by die IRB en dis reg, maar die werklikheid is ook dat ons na vier wedstryde die jaar onoorwonne is teen Engeland en die All Blacks het in een wedstryd ‘n rekord nederlaag onder die gordel.

    Tweedens kon Jake White nooit Ierland klop nie. Heyneke het dit moeilik gemaak maar hy het gewen. Onthou Aus kan ook vir die laaste sewe jaar nie vir Ierland daar klop nie.

    Ons het ons rekord met Skotland reggemaak… en nie een drie afgestaan nie (Die All Blacks het DRIE afgestaan).

    Ons het baie werk wat gedoen moet word maar vir die jaareind toer is dit mission accomplished. Ons het al ons wedstryde gewen… in teenstelling met Aus, NS en Arg. Die feit dat ons dit gedoen het met klomp beserings en nie met eerste keuse spelers en met moeite wys dat hierdie Springbok span karakter het om nog baie verder te gaan. Die dag wanneer hulle kliek gaan wie ookal voor hulle staan 50 punte afstaan… en ek hoop dit sal die All Blacks wees, maar jy sal seker weer wil weet hoekom dit net eenkeer gebeur of hoekom dit nie 70 punte was nie…

    So gee net klein klein klein ou bietjie krediet waar dit toekom, maar ek hou nie my asem op nie.

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