As the sun set over Doornfontein in downtown Johannesburg, so did the reality of losing to the All Blacks at our spiritual home. It had been deemed the clash of the titans, the world’s number one team (All Blacks) against the challengers to that throne. Let’s be honest no other team in world rugby has the potential to unseat the All Blacks. But the Springboks learnt on Saturday that we still have some way to go.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, speaking in a post-match interview, inexplicably said, “So they didn’t score off our mistakes – like usual it was just bad defence. But I am proud of the guys, I think we are closing the gap.”
After hearing his comments I began to wonder if we were watching the same game.
You see, I have a problem where I find myself analysing rugby matches, looking at them play by play. It’s mostly the reason I watch rugby alone, so I don’t annoy fans who just watch the game for fun. But last Saturday I was out with friends, the excitement of the game was builiding and deep down I still harboured a little hope that the Springboks could do the unthinkable and squeeze a win against the old foe.
But even at the first kickoff by the Kiwis we couldn’t gather and were immediately under pressure. I don’t intend to analyse the game play by play, but I have done some homework for Meyer, like a true patriot, like our Number 1 asks of us. The homework appears to be very well timed, considering his statement above. So here are the few lessons you should have learned from this game, Mr Meyer.
- We have no strategy for the high ball. We did not gather a single ball from the kick-offs and when the All Blacks launched up-and-unders it sent shivers down our spines.
- We have no second-half scrum. When the front row starters make way in the second half of the game, our scrum regresses. This was clear on Saturday when Meyer replaced the front row before a 5m scrum on the All Black line.
- Our starting lock at number five is not our best number five. Juandre Kruger was left severly wanting during the game. He is not of international standard. It’s time to bring through some young takent looking ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2015. How about Pieter-Steph du Toit?
- Our starting fullback, for all his guile and dedication, is not our best 15. Zane Kirchner is not a world-class player and it showed when the stakes were high. He’s a good player against average opposition and an average player against great opposition. Either Pat Lambie needs to get more game time, or we need JP Pietersen back and Willie le Roux must shift back to fullback.
- We pride ourselves on sound aggresive forward play and a strong maul. We were easily matched in this department by the All Blacks. When the Kiwis fronted to us, it turned out we had no plan other than just pushing hard.
- When Willem Alberts went off injured, it showed how thin we are in our loose trio balance. We began to get isolated in the tackle and turned over a lot of good possession. We need to grow our loose trio pool and get more combinations working.
- Bismarck du Plessis is our best hooker in the scrum and Adriaan Strauss is most suited to the loose game. The Boks lost their dominance in the scrum when Du Plessis went off for Strauss. The starting front row must be tinkered with only when it is absolutely necessary.
- The Boks’ defence on Saturday was appalling. We appeared to have no defensive strategy and our attitude to defending our line is one of every man for himself. We need a defensive coach, well at least one that can do the job.
- Our attack has no plan or structure after the second phase; we get into the red zone so many times only to come back with no points. The All Blacks, by comparison, were ruthless, scoring points every time they were camped on the Bok try line.
As the ref blew the final whistle many walked away in anguish, a fitting reaction to getting a proper hiding at home. I was left with more questions than answers – are our forwards getting the best training from Johan van Graan? Are we learning from our mistakes and constantly trying to improve? Will the team win the 2015 World Cup without a decent defensive coach? Will Meyer make the personnel changes he needs to make to ensure the team progresses?
As I listened to the post-match interviews, I wondered how far our passion and physicality could take us. I also wondered how long the hopeful South African fans could go on without change – positive change.
All photos by David Harrison