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Could have been better, could have been worse


Guest writer Mike Bersiks gives an analysis nof the Boks’ performance against Italy.

A 44-10 win in their first match of the season is a pretty good result for the Springboks.

In fact, it could be said that this is the first match of a new era under Heyneke Meyer, so pronounced were some of the steps taken forward in the Bok style of play.

After a lacklustre first year in charge Meyer has clearly decided that aiming for second best behind the All Blacks is not good enough. From the evidence of his selections and the Bok style of play in the Italy Test, Meyer has clearly decided that the Boks need to shift towards the pacy, dynamic style of play perfected in recent years by New Zealand if they are to once again dominate the world of rugby as they did briefly during the Jake White/John Smit era. That is, obviously, without sacrificing the traditional South African strengths of proficiency at the set-pieces and forward dominance, but more on that later.

Firstly, for those of you who say this win was only achieved against Italy, remember that the Azzurri scored wins against both Ireland and France in the Six Nations this year. The current Italy side under coach Jacques Brunel are no longer a one-dimensional outfit that can only scrum and not do much else. For a 20-minute period at the beginning of the second half in Durban they showed how far they have progressed in terms of implementing a multi-phase, ball-in hand gameplan. In fact Italy probably went too far in terms of throwing the ball around in the wrong parts of the field, and gifted the Boks at least one try.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the Springbok performance in Durban. Things they did well:

• Backline Attack – For the first time in the Meyer era rucks were being cleared at speed instead of waiting for forward pods to form. The backline was running straight and hard, onto flat passes instead of drifting laterally. Debutants Wilie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht were especially prominent in this respect, although both players made several mistakes on attack (Engelbrecht scored one try but butchered two more scoring opportunities). Le Roux in particular showed in one match just what the Boks were lacking last year in the number 15 jersey. Although he didn’t play badly in the green and gold in 2012, the pedestrian Zane Kirchner just doesn’t have the pace or skillset necessary for an international-class outside back. Too many times last season the only ideas the Bok backline seemed to have on attack were to bash it up in the number 12 channel. Offloads were a rarity in 2012, but were much more in evidence against Italy due to the willingness to attack from deep and the lines players were running in support.

• Pace – The pure speed shown by Bryan Habana, Le Roux, Engelbrecht and Bjorn Basson was enough to give any defence coach in the world sleepless nights. Habana in particular looks like he has slimmed down a bit and got more gas in the tank. He left the Italian line of defence for dead on a number of occasions en route to creating a try for Engelbrecht and scoring a super one himself. Despite a silly yellow card due to a high tackle Basson also had his best ever outing in a Bok jersey, finally looking like the player who has done so well for the Bulls in Super Rugby.

• Defence – The Boks defended well even when put under pressure deep in their own half for long periods. Very few tackles were missed and there were several examples of the trademark Springbok offensive defence, driving players back and forcing turnovers from physicality on the gain-line. New flank Arno Botha’s workrate in particular was noteworthy in this phase of the game, and the Blue Bulls youngster could be set for a long Bok career. Question marks were raised over his defence when selected to the Bok team, but Le Roux saved two certain tries with tackle on Sergio Parisse, and an interception and mark of a cross kick.

Although the result was never really in doubt, the 44-10 scoreline did flatter the Boks somewhat. There are several areas that need to be improved ahead of the next Test against Scotland:

• Set Pieces – The line-out worked reasonably well, but after a few good early scrums the oomph seemed to go out of the Bok frontrow and Italy milked four penalties from a dominant scummaging performance. Bok loosehead Beast Mtawarira in particular seemed to tire and came in for some rough treatment. The Boks restored some parity late in the game when another promising debutant, Trevor Nyakane, replaced Beast. Meyer has indicated that he will be making some changes ahead of the Scotland Test. Starting Cheetahs props Coenie Oosthuizen and Nyakane, and resting the tired looking Sharks pair of Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis are looking like a good option.

• Kick-Offs – This phase of play was a shambles for the Springboks with several balls being knocked-on or allowed to bounce. I can only put it down to early season rustiness, but it’s obviously an area of concern against a better side than Italy.

• Scrumhalf – Although South Africa has several very good scrumhalves, no one has managed to make the Bok number nine jersey his own since the exit of Fourie du Preez. Jano Vermaak impressed with some of his passing, but was caught with the ball several times and now looks to be out for an extended period of time with a serious hamstring injury. Ruan Pienaar will come back into the starting team and Bok fans will hope that he is the answer. A bonus of Pienaar’s inclusion is that it strengthens the bench by allowing a place for utility back Francois Hougaard.

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  1. I think I was spoiled by the Matfield/Botha/Rossouw era because I thoyght our lineout were a disaster.

    Kruger will need to take charge and the lifters need to start being clever.

    Scrumhalf… ssiiiigghhh… Rory Kockott… Rory Kockott… Rory Kockott

  2. Agree pretty much with most of it.

    One thing still concerns me though, Coenie is not a tight head, we need to find one.

  3. Reply to biltongbek @ 9:10 am:

    Fo**kof… I’m not supposed to agree with you… what are you doing? Trying to make me crazy?

    That’s not allowed…

    You’re supposed to say something dof like … the backline need to get an attitude of creating pressure at the back… or something similar…

  4. Fine, here goes.

    The backline must show intent to run with ball in hand, the required intensity in the rucks will provide the quick ball that will allow the space and time for the backs to execute.

  5. Reply to DavidS @ 9:05 am:

    “I think I was spoiled by the Matfield/Botha/Rossouw era because I thoyght our lineout were a disaster”

    That is just it, our lineout was so superior during that era that we were spoilt for a long time.

    Maybe we should cut these newcomers some slack, or get Matfield on the payroll quick-quick as a lineout consultant.

  6. I’d be very interested to learn exactly when the White/Smit team dominated world rugby. Brief? How brief, 1 game or 1 minute?

  7. Reply to Timeo @ 2:36 pm:

    i was thinking the same thing. Maybe that game where we beat the Poms 33-0 in the world cup? I have no idea, the only recent time I recall the Boks dominating world rugby, was 2009.

  8. Yep Aldo. 2009. When NZ just had no answer for the Gary Owen kicks followed by Brussouw smothering the possession away – if the NZ guys even caught it cleanly.
    Remember how GHenry would bray after the games how the rules needed to be changed.

    On another note I am seeing a fever in DavidS similar to one I had in early 2012 – at least after the Cheethas @ Brumbies game.
    It was when I recognized that the Messerschmitt – Willie LeRoux was not your average bear…

    I think DavidS may have the same sort of recognition with Rory Kockett. That alone is not enough to get him included in the Bok side.

    David – if you are all in on Kockett & want to see hin in the green & gold….it’s incumbent upon you to give him a nickname – a catchy moniker that embodies his play & repeat it incessantly.

    The above accompanied by taking seemingly unrelated topics and relating to them with the dynamism that is Rory Kockett should see your guy in SA colors in under 12 months I’d say.
    Best of luck and I will certainly join you in this endeavor.
    What I can’t help you with….is the nickname.
    That’s all you. So…..What will it be?

  9. Americano the whingey Kiwi also wanted drop goals changed to count just 1 point because “there was no defence” against them…

    Geez but at the timne we should have called him Whiney Henry… there was always something to whinge about…

    On Kockott…

    Yes well now that I’ve spent a few hours on Youtube watching his 2012/2013 performance I am thinking how the f**k did we even let him go!!!

    I’m hoping that Brenden Venter & Co go and tell him all is forgiven please come home…

  10. Nobody mentions that Morne Steyn
    started running from just outside his
    own 22.
    This must have been a first ever!
    And I can’t clearly remember a ball
    thrown on Ysterbed in the line-outs.

  11. Reply to Boertjie @ 8:19 pm:

    I didn’t want to say anything about it because the score was like 20-0, with total domination by the Boks when they started with that shit and let Italy right back into the game.


  12. My biggest bugbear is that the breakdowns have seen no improvement over 80 minutes… something HM said he would be fixing!

    No hitting the rucks at pace, en-mass (with support) and cleaning out with vigour…

    No counter-rucking at pace, en-mass (with support) and with vigour…

    This is not the job of one person (my other bug-bear the RSA word ‘fetcher) but of all the 22!

    With ball-in-hand there should ‘always’ be support-runners on either side, ready for the off-load in tackle, or to smash opposition when ball goes to ground!

    Following on from that smashing it draws defenders in (or physically pulls them aside as in the case of the AB’s) and creates the perfect opportunity for the quick, pick-n-go up the middle… sucking in defenders, putting them on the back-foot and creating gaps for incoming backs at angles…

    Nothing has changed above… and until it does it doesn’t matter if the Boks have David Pocock or Richie McCaw in their side!

    What’s more worrying is that HM is gone from talking the above as a collective effort… to now more recently simply talking ‘fetchers’…

    Pocock, Hooper and Smith have only been so good because of the collective effort of the others arriving at the break-down and doing all of the above…

    Sort it Heyneke please… this has been the Bok’s downfall since the 1/4 final exit and has not changed one iota as Argentina, the AB’s and Aus have proven!

  13. Bryce, add to above that there was no protection for the scrumhalf, as Vermaak was caught thrice behind the rucks.

  14. Reply to Cosa @ 5:59 am:

    Yep for sure it all leads to slow-ball for the half-back… last year they (the fans) simply blame it on Ruan Pienaar… but the above is the reason…

  15. Back to the current squad… Coenie at TH is not the answer… he’s the first choice Cheetahs loose-head and should be there for the Boks as a LH (freak accident TH cover)… Adriaanse should be there SHARPISH!

    Jannie is simply over-played for the Sharks and Boks and is bound to break-down and then they’re fooked!

    He gets played come rain or shine no matter what his condition… missing a beat here against a crap Scotland side…

  16. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 5:54 am:
    My biggest bugbear is that the breakdowns have seen no improvement over 80 minutes… something HM said he would be fixing!

    No hitting the rucks at pace, en-mass (with support) and cleaning out with vigour…

    No counter-rucking at pace, en-mass (with support) and with vigour…

    They seemed to be hitting the rucks quite well in the first half but in the first 20 of the second half committed no one at all and just fanned out to defend thus gifting the ball to the Italians. Old habits die hard.
    On top of that, expecting your team to put in 2 – 3 times the number of tackles more than your opposition must have an effect on the injury toll.

  17. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 7:50 am: I was listening to Pieter de Villers the scrum coach on boots and All, he kept on insisting that Coenie is coming around and that it is only technique that is holding him back, but he is working hard on it and is improving.

    Hell if that is called improvement, I don’t want to know what struggling is.

  18. for me it is simple.

    you want a strong front row, ow if Coenie is one of the best looseheads, or potentially one of the best looseheads in world rugby, why take him away?

    Now you are compromising on loosehead because you want to convert a loose head to a tight head.

    Look at what happened to the Bok scrum during PDV’s tenure, John Smit was at best a make shift prop. It didn’t work.

    There is a reason why looseheads and tight heads are diffirent positions.

    My son U10, was converted from a loose head to a tight head this season, for the very same reason as Coenie.

    Where last year he scrummed the Toffee out of guys he now has to learn all over again how to undo to loose heads what he did as a loosehead to a tight head.

    Although he is holding his own, he is nowhere as good as last year.

    I was a loose head when I played club rugby, and knew exactly how to teach him, now I have to figure out how to teach him the opposite.

    Very Frustrating.

  19. Ugh, luckily my son is small like me, I can just imagine me trying to teach my son how to scrum as a prop. Haha they’d laugh this flyhalf/inside centre of the park!

  20. As for this weekend. Me thinks that Heyneke missed a trick by not picking the entire Cheetahs frontrow to play the scots. The scots are onto reserves in the frontrow, ideal oppertunity for them. Also then you could send the entire sharks frontrow onto the park with 20 or 30 mins to go, and have bismarck make his comeback with props he knows very well at his side. I think though Heyneke wants to see coenie on the field, but is maybe under pressure to get the numbers of players of colour right, so nyakane is picked as loosehead, which leaves only tighthead as an option. We hardly understand the pressures of springbok coach with transformation looming over him, to me Nyakane is at least good enough to be there, but fact remains Heyneke needs him there.

    Sad but true, a fact we can never ever forget.

  21. Okay Billies and Oranje Orakel…

    I was asked on twitter if it is easy to convert from TH to LH and if it’s difficult why?

    I actually could not answer.

  22. Reply to DavidS @ 3:53 pm: i’ll try to explain it to you, don’t know if it will make sense but here goes.

    As a loosehead I see myself and the tight head in the same way I see a ladder. One is the supporting beam wanting to keep the ladder up and rhe other wanting to pull it down.

    Now when you look at the bind and the position of the hit from a loosehead, you can imagine him having a straight line from heel, through his hips through his left shoulder at an angle pushing up.

    To help him keep that imaginary straight line he locks his elbow and shoulder parralel to the ground. That provides him the unencumbered imaginary straight line and that is where his power comes from. Think about it as a vector that pushes forward and up.

    To be a tight head you want naturally to fight that straight line, because of the bind you are in actual fact binding “over or above” the loose head, which means you need different techniques to “break” the line of power from the loosehead, but that is the difficulty, you need to break the lock of the loose head downwards to drop his shoulder which endumbers or impedes the “imaginary straight line”

    That is difficult and I have no experience other than suggesting a tight head must be f…n strong