Warty win perfect for Boks

Mike Greenaway

Given the rugby world’s preoccupation with all things All Blacks, perhaps the best way of looking at the Boks’ warts-and-all win over the Wallabies is that it was the perfect preparation for Saturday’s mighty rematch with the Kiwis in Pretoria.

When Rassie Erasmus settled down in his PE hotel room on Saturday night he would have reflected with contentment on a win against top opposition despite an inevitable drop in intensity from Wellington. Momentum and morale has been sustained, and the unglamorous performance will keep the players “honest,” as they put it in New Zealand.

In other words, the Boks have preserved the belief that was gloriously engendered by the victory at the Cake Tin while knowing that a repeat of their iffy performance at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will see them hit for six at Loftus this week.

A second consecutive defeat to the Wallabies would have set aside the triumph in Wellington as yet another Springbok, backs-against-the-wall, one-off. Instead, another stout defensive effort staved off the desperate Aussies, allowing the Boks to march to Pretoria in a good mental space. They will be be quietly optimistic but  certainly not cocky.

Too often over the last decade or so we have seen Springbok teams unable to back-up significant wins or performances, so it was vital for this Bok team, under a much-hyped new coach, to prove both to themselves and their long-suffering supporters that this is indeed a brave new dawn.

The Boks have now beaten each of their Rugby Championship rivals, including what has proved to be a very strong Pumas team, giving supporters reason to believe that something special is brewing under the artful Erasmus.

Like the A-Team under John “Hannibal” Smith, the plan is coming together for Erasmus’ Boks. During the dark times of the Meltdown in Mendoza, and the despairing defeat in Brisbane, he could have been forgiven for quoting the biblical phrase “Oh ye of little faith…”

Speaking of keeping the faith, what we have seen in the two Bok wins is the players at last getting to grips with the system devised by defence coach Jacques Nienaber, Erasmus’ bosom buddy who has followed him from the Cheetahs to the Stormers, Munster and onwards to the Springboks.

Casting our minds back to the series against England, the fatal defensive glitches — especially out wide — suggested the players were having difficulty transferring Nienaber’s strategy from the blackboard to the field of play.

But in Wellington they showed they had got the hang of it, and on Saturday night Wallabies coach Michael Cheika made an interesting observation on the Boks’ defence. He said: “They have obviously been taking a bit of time getting used to playing high line-rush defence but they have done really well. They have now scored two good wins off that defensive foundation.”

And it is one thing understanding the plan and another having the will to put the body on the line in implementing it. A truism of rugby is that you can judge the spirit and camaraderie in a team by its appetite for destruction on defence. On that score, the bloody-mindedness in the tackle that we have seen from every Bok player suggests a team at peace with itself and brimming with bon homie.

Also, despite not playing at their best against the Wallabies, there was nevertheless a growing conviction during the match that the Boks would prevail, another positive sign that this is a very good team in the making.

This week at Loftus, the Boks will inevitably raise their game against the All Blacks. All teams do, but especially the Boks.

The All Blacks, fresh from securing the Rugby Championship in Buenos Aires where they convincingly dispatched the Pumas, will be once bitten, twice shy against their Old Foe … but with 52,000 South Africans exhorting a fast-maturing Bok team to glory, that double is enticingly possible.

- Mike Greenaway

Let's chat

  • Phil

    Mike…something that I keep wondering.
    Have we gotten used to the defensive system or has it changed?

    I did not see the same line speed even attempted before the Cake Tin.
    Feels more like we changed the system than we have gotten better at implementing it.

    I expect the ABs will bring tactics to disrupt our rush this weekend. Beauty of the rush, if you can dominate the tackle and get the rush working even those tactics become hard to execute.

    • Herman Schroder?

      I agree Phil. The Stormers definitely did not use the rush defence when Nienaber was there. He seems to have adjusted his thinking. Of course Hansen will have a plan. Chips and grubbers are going to be the order of the day at the start and when the Boks get caught between two game plans the gaps will open up. You heard it here first, lol. Cheers.

  • Barry Smith

    As I have mentioned in other forums, this week will be a test of strategies Hansen Vs Erasmus! Hansen will be looking for ways to counter the defensive line speed and Erasmus will be looking for few new tricks to surprise!
    What is encouraging, is that for a change, we have a artful strategist in our corner. It is really encouraging because for so many years now, we have been out-thought on strategy – Jones with Japan, Gatland with Wales, Smit with Ireland and so on… it must also be hugely encouraging for the players who see plans bearing fruit. This grows confidence and respect and strengthens the team as a unit!

  • John Comyn

    Agree. I never felt nervous we might lose this one despite the fact that they were under the cosh for long periods. It must be a concern for Rassie that in the last 2 games they were not able to get out of their half for almost the entire 2nd half. It says a lot for the fitness levels that they survived. I’m no expert but I just think Faf is overdoing the kicking, especially the box kick. Maybe give the ball to Pollard to kick for touch. Pollard kicks it a lot further and the Boks were contending well at the line-outs against OZ. The Wallabies were excellent under the high ball and Faf persisted with it the entire game. One does not want to be critical as a win is a win but nevertheless!

    • Herman Schroder?

      So Faf must stop kicking and give it to Pollard to kick most of the time. So that sorts out the kicking so where are the tries coming from ? Defence plus kicking = dom krag in my book, lol. Cheers.

    • Barry Smith

      I agree on the Faf kicking issue we are playing far too much off 9. It makes things things very predictable and thus easy to defend!

      Our turn over stats were also an issue, suggesting our loose trio mix is still not where it needs to be! The Aussie conversion rate was way better than ours!

      • SweetAz

        By the way, how did Notshe go against the Wobblies?- I only saw the last 20 minutes of that game

        • Steven

          He (Notch) said he is a work in progress. there’s an article somewhere on sport24 on his performance – more workmanlike than his usual flair… made 11 tackles in his 45 min – he’s not at full fitness yet.

          But on another note, the reason we didn’t have many turnovers was due to the defensive strategy – to fan out in defense and pick your battles. I think they change the emphasis game to game because we saw more competing at the breakdown in Wellington to slow the NZ ruck (>3sec per ruck), allowing the defense line to restructure itself. Generally though, the intensity levels were expectedly lower against the aussies.

        • Barry Smith

          Huge effort as ever, but loose trio miss balanced against Aussie masters Hooper & Pocock! Was replaced at 45 mins. SA stats not great 6 steals from 97 Aussie rucks!

      • SweetAz

        It would behove the Bok coaches to show their men the video of the AB return fixture against Ireland after the loss in Chicago. This game is going to be DIRTY and if the Boks are not prepared to fight fire with fire they will lose the game. The AB’s have a win at any cost mentality so expect to see obstruction, forward passes, jersey pulling, shoulders to the head etc etc.
        Don’t be surprised to see some fisticuffs.—and Barrett attempting 200 drop-goals.

  • William Botha

    You know, it’s something Siya said that rang true for me … “It’s those non-skill related things that are not negotiable in the team now;” the best example of which is Pieter-Steph who literally gives 110% at equal pace for a full eight minutes, it’s the Cheslin, Faf and Aphiwe who are tackling like the Jan Ellis of old … Springbok jerseys bouncing off the deck and back into the system in the last five minutes off the game … Another significant signal is that the high pressure, high velocity, press defense is working – simply because everyone in the line is trusting everyone in the line to rush with them. That trust cannot be bought at the corner store, it is something that Rassie and Siya and Jacques have nurtured and we saw the first blossoms two weekends ago when the surgical potential of the Kiwis backline was asphyxiated.

    The Kiwi’s have a simple plan; score more tries than their opponents – they rely on their scintillating attack to the point that even the Argentinians are able to score tries against them, they could have scored three this last weekend. But what happens when that attack is blunted, stuffed, throttled?

    Loftus is going to roar on Saturday, providing one or two more players to the home side. This is one game I am NOT going to miss on espn in the United States. The ‘Honey-Do List’ is going in the trash.

    • Herman Schroder?

      We are nowhere near where the Argies are on attack especially with the best flyhalf in world rugby in Sanchez at the helm. Remember the Argies klapped us last time out. Defence is all and good but unless we create more tries we are still going to lose more than we win against the top sides.

      Don’t forget we asphyxiated the AB’s according to you but they still scored six tries and botched about another four. Defence stopped four but not the other six. Cheers.

  • Dean

    It will be interesting to see what the AB’s tactics are for this game. Are they going to test our vulnerability under the high ball? Or will they take those 3 pointers on offer when they come available. Another interesting aspect will be the lineouts. Are the AB’s going to try dominate the lineouts? I hope Rassie has a few more tricks up his sleeve. We can’t tackle all day again and expect to win. We need to play more with the ball and starve them of possession. Even if that means resorting to close quarter attacks up the middle of the field to wear them down. I’d like to see less kicking from 9 and more of the decision making coming from 10. Pollard can be quite unpredictable. That break he made in the last game when he stepped 2 players and passed inside was brilliant.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Pollard is not a creator of tries notwithstanding his break which came from a very poor tackle. He won’t have that luxury on Saturday. One ‘poor tackle’ try in 80 minutes from the Boks good enough ? As I said he can take the ball up but create ? no no. Cheers.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Mike a typical glass half full article and there is some merit in that. Truth is however we are coming from such a low base any win to us seems like manna from heaven and that worries me. If it’s taken us nine tests to get our defence right how long will it take for the attacking part of our game, which is far more complex, to show progress. Only eight tests to go for the WC where we play NZ twice plus our first WC game meaning three times in the next nine matches. Oh boy.

    At the moment there is nothing to suggest we have improved on that score at all. The Aussie test ample proof of that with eighty minutes of rugby and one try from a very poor tackle the only reward ? And that against a seventh ranked team in world rugby ? Even the AB test with a sterling defensive effort and still conceding six tries, simply not good enough.

    I know one needs to stay positive and I agree there is a much more steely aspect to our defence but is that enough ? Loftus is going to answer a lot of those questions but what we should not accept is a narrow loss based on our defensive prowess only. A narrow loss based on total rugby would be preferable if we showed an efficient attacking game plan and execution over the eighty minutes.

    Of course conversely a win would probably silence all the doubters ( including myself ) who would then have to run for the hills and find a place to hide. I’ll however put my money where my mouth is and make an early prediction here – AB’s to win by 18 scoring 5 tries to the 2 by the Boks. ( 39 – 21 to be exact ). That regrettably would not be good enough. Cheers.

Comments are closed.