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Bill's Analysis of this last Weekend

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Post Mortem: Test Match Rugby 2

 

This weekend gave us some very interesting rugby.

 

I know that there are many that would suggest that I am smoking something illegal to have found the rugby interesting, after all the Boks lost…… Nobody in his right mind should find a poor game of rugby interesting, especially if the Boks lose.

 

Let me tell you why I found the weekend’s test rugby fascinating.

 

Way back in the dim and distant past I watched a Springbok outfit throw away any remaining vestige of the glorious history of South African rugby. In those days we all still assumed that a certain dignity, a certain honour and nobility, accompanied the granting of the right to wear that green and gold blazer. To be a Springbok was to be something special.

 

Then came that thumping introduction and contact with the nether regions of Mother Earth.

 

It was the period 2002 to 2004, with the 2003 Rugby World Cup smack bang in the middle of it all. Corne Krige, a hugely respected man and a truly gutsy rugby player, captained the Springboks. They were not a great side. Too many mediocre players, no real game plan, no real strategy, a coach who became increasingly paranoid with each passing week of his tenure in the top job. A security specialist included in the team management. Politics and prejudice rearing it’s ugly head within the squad when the Quinton Davids/Geo Cronje affair exploded onto the front pages of the world’s newspapers. The Kamp Staaldraad affair.

 

It was not a good time to be a Springbok supporter. (Nor a player, if the truth be told!)

 

And then there was the way the Boks set about the game.  Accepting their limitations as rugby players, they chose to adopt a very aggressive confrontational style of play. Their approach became more and more physical; off-the-ball niggle became direct physical attacks. Every lineout and loose scrum became a physical confrontation. If they could not win the game, at least they could win the fight. This approach might have pleased many of their more red-necked supporters, but it certainly embarrassed those who loved the game of rugby. It all culminated with an ignominious departure from the 2003 Word Cup, followed by the worst defeat to England in the history of South African rugby. (It was 53 to 3, just in case you have blocked that horrible day from your memory banks.)

 

During this last game the television footage revealed the extent to which the South African team lost sight of the ball and focused purely on playing the man. Corne Krige admitted in his autobiography that he had lost control and had intentionally fouled the England players. The Springboks seemed intent on inflicting physical harm on the England players.

 

It was not a happy time for South African rugby. In fact it remains embedded in my mind as the worst period in a long and proud history of Springbok rugby.

 

What am I writing about stuff that happened 12 years ago? How can this contribute to the fascination I found in last Saturday’s Rugby Championships tests?

 

Last Saturday I watched the Australians playing the All Blacks with increasing fascination. I was watching the Springboks of the Corne Krige era all over again. It was a game filled with spite, animosity and ill-feeling. And it was the second week in a row where the Aussies became more and more focused on playing the man rather than the ball. I watched the shoulder charges, I watched late tackles, I watched off-the-ball jersey tugging and shoulder bumping. I watched the pushing and shoving at every lineout, scrum, ruck or maul. I watched Aussie captain Stephen Moore go after Aaron Smith at least 15 meters off the ball, an incident missed by the referee and most of the commentators. I watched Dean Mumm spend the entire game pushing, shoving, and verbally abusing anyone wearing a black jersey. I watched Nick Phipps rip Malakai Feketoa’s boot off his foot and then hurl it into the crowd.

 

Somehow that boot-throwing incident sums up the Australian approach to this test match. If they could not win the game, at least they could win the fight.

 

Quite simply, I watched the Aussies lose it.

 

Lest we forget that this animosity was not restricted to the field of play. Michael Cheika had a full go at Steven Hansen in the weeks leading up to both the first and second tests. We even had the strange discovery of a bugging device in the All Blacks' team room.

 

The Aussie press played it’s part too, accusing the All Blacks of being paranoid rather than focusing on the fact that someone had placed a listening device in the All Black team room. The listening device seemed to be okay, but to complain about seemed just a bit paranoid, said the Aussie press.

 

And then there is Michale Cheika’s post game actions. He did his level best to deflect from the poor performance of his team by blaming referee Romain Poite, he even went so far as to mention Nigel Owens in his ranting when the Welshman wasn't involved in either of the two Bledisloe Cup tests. That was pushing it a bit, Mikey……. 

 

He had a go at Poite for refusing to get caught up in endless discussions and time wasting by Stephen Moore. We all know that Moore is a master at slowing the game down and preventing opponents from taking quick tap-kicks and speeding the game up by endlessly querying every decision by every referee, in every game where he is captain. (He is well supported by David Pocock who adds to the queries and discussions, despite not being captain!) Sorry Mikey, but Moore is very deliberate in his constant queries and any referee worth his salt will eventually refuse to listen. Surprisingly, for someone who had so much to say on the field, his speech at the post-match interview was very short.

 

It is also very odd to hear Cheika complain about a pre-test meeting between Steve Hansen and Poite, a meeting which simply didn't happen, both Hansen and Poite deny that there was a meeting, but Cheika still insists on the ARU referring the matter to World Rugby for investigation. Perhaps it is all summed up by a moment when the TV cameras caught him exploding in the coach’s box, mouthing obscenities that only the Pope would not have been able to lip-read.

 

This is not the first time Mr Cheika has had a go at match officials, just last year he inexplicably escaped sanction for confronting referee Jaco Peyper at halftime in a match between the Waratahs and the Blues. That transgression should have triggered a World Cup ban, as Cheika was already in trouble for verbally abusing a television camera operator in South Africa.

 

It brings me back to the fascination that I found watching on Saturday. There is a trend of poor behaviour being condoned by the rugby authorities, although this time it is Aussie behavior not South African behavior that seems to attract no sanction.  

 

Test rugby is brutal and unapologetic but it is not without limits or acceptable codes by which all teams are bound. In 2004 the Springboks went way beyond those limits. On Saturday the Wallabies  followed suit and went well beyond those limits in 80 minutes, when they played without any sense of what is acceptable on a rugby field.

 

Interesting too, has been the All Black response to all that aggression, niggle and post-match complaining.

 

They have simply laughed it off.

 

But, that was not the end of my fascination on Saturday. Over in Argentina we saw another fascinating game of rugby.

 

Yes, the Springboks lost, and that is always simply unacceptable to most South African commentators, spectators, and the media. But it was fascinating, nevertheless.

 

In complete contrast to the game over in New Zealand where one team completely and totally outplayed and dominated the other, we saw a game where a team that has traditionally struggled to build an identity and style find itself begin to find the confidence and focus that contributes to a winning ethos, playing against a team of youngsters struggling to find their feet in the deep end of the rugby pool.

 

The Argentineans are not a great side. They are a very good side when their confidence is on a high, but they are short of greatness. They have, however, learned to win games, and on Saturday they learned another lesson – how to grind out a win just when it looks as if you have lost it.

 

In contrast we had the South Africans, a team struggling to find an identity, struggling to find a playing style, and struggling to find the units and combinations that work together to build a great side. This is a very new team, with loads of youngsters, and they are struggling to get to grips with test match rugby.

 

Unlike Mark Keohane writing in the Business Day, I do not believe that South African rugby is at its lowest point in the professional era. He seems to have forgotten that woeful period between 2001 and 2004 that I mentioned earlier. He also seems to have forgotten last year’s terrible performances against the Pumas and the Cherry Blossoms…

 

What we do have is a team stuck midway between two rugby philosophies. Do the Boks embrace the freedom of the open running style of the Lions, or do they continue to play percentage rugby based on physical domination, low risk disciplines, rock solid defence and counterattack?  We have a team with no clear identity. They are neither one thing, nor the other.

 

Perhaps the single biggest problem that is evident in the team is a lack of leadership. Not captaincy, but real leadership. There is no one amongst the backs that takes the lead, sets the tone, or decides the tactics of strategies. There is no one amongst the forwards who dictates the who, why, where, when, and what will happen.

 

And then there is the captaincy issue. Adriaan Strauss was a very good captain for the Cheetahs. He has not been quite as visible nor influential at the Bulls, and in the Bok jersey he has been largely invisible. Yes, a week ago he managed to calm the team down just as panic buttons were being punched down Nelspruit way, but he was unable to exert any influence on the game at Salta.

 

The real issue is: Who else can do the job?

 

There are many who are clamoring for Warren Whiteley to be crowned the new king. I have one small but really niggling worry, he has not taken any leadership role in the Bok outfit when the wheels have started to wobble! You do not have to be captain to be the leader. It should be an automatic thing. Instinctive. Think of a Schalk Burger and the calming authoritative influence of the man, even when he was not given the captain’s armband. When the wheels wobbled, Schalk would be pulling the forwards into a huddle and talking, pointing, glaring, and leading. He would be wandering amongst the backs, talking. He would lead, most usually from the front!

 

Amongst the backs there is a singular lack of leadership. Nobody is embracing the role of on-field general. Elton Jantjies should be dictating the game, and isn’t. Faf de Klerk is still a rookie learning the game. De Allende is similarly bereft of leadership instincts. Bryan Habana out on the wing, is too far removed from the game to have much influence on play. Nobody out there is holding up their hand and saying, “Hey guys! Listen…..”

 

The two most obvious candidates for the back line leadership role, perhaps even team captaincy, are both out with injuries. Both Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard have shown their natural leadership ability, and both have been successful as captains. We need them back, very soon!

 

The next issue that the Bok leadership and coaching team have to decide on is the style of play they want to adopt. The current mish-mash of being caught between two styles has to come to an end. You cannot play both styles of rugby at the same time. It is time to make the decision, and then to implement it with players that are likely to flourish in that particular brand of rugby.

 

If Allister Coetzee chooses the modern open style of the All Blacks he has to embrace it fully and focus on building a team that can and will play that way. If he chooses to revert to a safety-first defensive style with the counter attack as his primary scoring weapon, then he must do so with players that are suited to the physicality and grind of that game.

 

One thing we do need to see, whichever style of rugby the team adopts, is a total commitment to playing just that one style of rugby, without the constant tinkering and changes of the previous coaching regime. There can be no more “one week we run, the next week we grind” depending upon the opponents. There has to be one style, one overall game plan, an identifiable identity. Call it Springbok Rugby, 2016 style.

 

Another point of focus for the Bok coach has to be the eradication of errors, poor defence and the total lack of incisiveness on attack evident in the last two weeks. This is not an issue that starts and finishes in the Bok squad, it is an issue that needs to be resolved at franchise, province, and club and school levels. Skill sets need to be addressed at the lowest levels to flow up through to the top. The game plan and style of play must start at junior level and flow through to be refined at national level.

 

New Zealand based teams all play a similar brand of rugby, whether it is the Blues, the Chiefs, or the Crusaders. Be it the Hurricanes or the Highlanders, the basic style of play of each of those five franchises is the same as that of the All Blacks. Yes, they do have variations to the theme, but the basics are identical.

 

We cannot say the same of South African franchises or provinces. At the risk of being repetitive and boring – We have the Lions who have embraced an open attacking style similar to that of the New Zealanders. We have the Stormers also edging out along that same road. Then we have the Bulls and the Sharks who have both bravely spoken about a “new style” but have persisted with their dour kick based game plan. (I watched their Currie Cup game this past weekend – it was an endless display of box kicking and up-and-unders) We have the Cheetahs who spread the ball to the wings under all circumstances, but have no variation to that tactic, and the Kings who appear to have no particular style of rugby at all.

 

It is very difficult for the national squad, the Springboks, to adopt a uniquely South African style of play, simply because there is no such thing.

 

It is time for South African rugby to look at itself and decide whether it will continue along the path of factionalism and provincialism, or whether to put country ahead of club and work together and forge something stronger and more cohesive. We need to adopt one overall style of play, and then let it flow through to the national side. This will, perforce, be a long-term project. We need cohesiveness at management level, at coaching level, and at playing level. We need consistency more than anything else.

 

The Springbok team of 2016 must be allowed to develop a style and cohesiveness of their own, giving leadership to the country as a whole. This is not going to be easy. Teams play as units, and constant tinkering with those playing units is not conducive to a concerted team effort. Chopping and changing the front rows, chopping and changing the half backs, the loose trio, the midfield, the back three or any other combination of players that must function as a unit will not allow those units to gel and form a cohesive whole.

 

Someone with the strength of mind and purpose needs to adopt an off-the-field leadership role and to drive South African rugby in a single direction. And those squabbling wannabe’s that populate the leadership positions of the 14 provincial unions must, for once, put their private agendas on hold and think about the good of South African rugby. (Please?)

 

The next primary issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible is the basic skill sets of out players.

 

We have skill problems ranging from passing and offloading to kicking. Our tactical kicking and kicks out of hand are poor, at best. Our touching kicking is an embarrassment. We have forwards with serious technique problems in the scrums, lineouts and rucks and mauls. Our goal kicking is abysmal.

 

Whilst I do believe that the Argentineans deserved to win on Saturday, we should also lament the fact that the Boks missed three penalty kicks at the posts, as well as a conversion attempt. Those 11 points were the difference between winning and losing. The previous week we also left a host of unconverted kicks out of the field in Nelspruit.

 

Elton Jantjies has a less than ideal kicking record, both for the Lions and for South Africa. In Super Rugby his kick success rate is a lowly 62%, and for the Boks it is hovering around 50%. That is simply not good enough for an international goal kicker.

 

I have enormous respect for Allister Coetzee. He has a very good record as both a coach and as a player. He is a quiet, soft-spoken individual who avoids controversy and confrontation and stays out of the limelight as much as possible. These are great personal qualities, but right now, today, he has to take a very firm grip on his team and become a dictator.

 

Eddie Jones is an example of a dictatorial coach. What he says, goes, and no debate. Jake White, for all his faults, is another coach who adopts the “my way or the high way” approach. Neither Jones, nor White are the most likeable characters in world rugby, but they know what they want and they know how to get it. It is time for Allister to adopt the same approach.

 

He has to lay down the law and tell the players and his coaching assistants exactly what he wants from them, and nothing less.

 

Most importantly, South African rugby has to follow his lead. If he wants to play a game full of running, passing, offloading, stepping and swerving, them we should all be trying to do it.

 

Lets revisit those Five Facts I enumerated last week to see if anything has changed:

 

Fact 1. Without a doubt South Africa have a very long way to go before we will challenge for the Rugby Championship trophy, or any other trophy of importance. Nothing has changed.

 

Fact 2. National Coach Allister Coetzee is lumped with the most demanding, undesirable, and unequal job in all of world rugby. He still has a team at sixes and sevens with itself. It is still a brand new team, under new management, with no time for getting to know each other on the field of play. They are still a bunch of rookies and it is showing.

 

Fact 3. The South African squad is still one of the most inexperienced ever gathered together under the national banner since the reintroduction of South Africa into world rugby. One or two games against Argentina does not change this fact.

 

Fact 4. A complete change in coaching infrastructure is coupled to a complete change in playing philosophy and game plans. Never was this more evident than during this last game against Argentina. Problem is we are not sure which playing style the coach favours.

 

Fact 5. The knives are still out for Coetzee! This will remain a problem, even if he were to win the next Rugby World Cup. This is the nature of South African supporters and rugby politicians, they all want to excise the coach, and coach, from rugby, forever.

 

 

Test Match Review:

 

The second test between South Africa and Argentina was decided in the 78th minute by a penalty goal. Argentina won, and deservedly so, but it was so nearly another Great Escape by a woeful Bok side.

 

The Boks missed 3 goalable penalties and a conversion, to leave 11 points out of the Salta playing surface, 11 points that were the difference between a win or a loss, but it would have been a rugby injustice if they had actually won.

 

During the first 5 minutes of the game it looked as if Elton Jantjies was on his “A” game. His kicks were accurate and decisive, he seemed to be quicker and more balanced than a week earlier. He seemed as if he had put the nightmare of Wellington and then Nelspruit out of his mind. But that was where his transformation ended and the familiar rot set in. He, and the rest of the Bok team, had a nightmare first half as they strung together a litany of mistakes, poor decisions, silly errors and woeful execution. My halftime comment was that they seemed to be lethargic and disinterested. Much as if playing with sticky glue on their boots.

 

There was no cohesion, no structure to their play, no fluency, no quickness of mind or movement, nothing. Defence was a lottery, and attack was wishful at best. There was nothing happening. And certainly no leadership, from anyone at all.

 

The interminable box-kicking was almost metronomic, and inaccurate at best. The tactical kicking seemed almost disinterested and equally speculative. The whole effort seemed to be without focus or commitment.

 

Small wonder than that Argentina dominated possession and territory in the first half.

 

The second half saw a slight improvement as Allister Coetzee rang the changes and emptied his substitutes bench. Some of the reserves played with more focus and intent than anyone in the starting XV. Some did not.

 

The only highlight, as brief as the flash of an Instamatic camera, was Bryan Habana finally scoring his 65th try for a new all-time Test record.

 

Morne Steyn had taken over the flyhalf duties from Jantjies in the 55th minute, but did not have much influence in an already lost cause. He gave the Boks the lead with six minutes to play, but it was not enough, with two just minutes left Argentina won a penalty in the Springbok half which Hernandez converted and the contest was over.

 

Some stats from the game:

 

The Pumas won 26 to 22, both teams scored two tries, both kicked 4 penalties, the Argentineans goaled both their tries, South Africa missed one conversion. South Africa missed 3 penalty goals and a conversion, the Argentineans did not miss a kick at goal.

 

Possession belonged to the Pumas, 53% to 47%, yet territory went the Springbok way 51% to 49%.

 

The Argentineans gave away one yellow card.

 

The attacking stats could not be more different:

 

The Argentineans carried the ball 98 tines, made 18 clean breaks, and beat 18 defenders while running 467 meters.

 

The South Africans carried the ball just 78 times, making 8 clean breaks, beating 16 defenders and managing just 324 running meters.

 

The Pumas offloaded the ball 7 times, the Boks 5. Pass count went to the Agrgies too, 122 to 105.

 

Interesting that down on the ground, South Africa managed 9 turnovers to the Pumas 8, and won 10 loose balls to the Argies 8.

 

Defensive stats also tell a story:

 

The South Africans had to make 98 tackles and missed 18, while the South Americans made 79 tackles and missed 16. That gave the Boks a slightly better tackle success rate of 84% to the Argies 83%.

 

Both teams kicked the ball a lot. The Argentineans 22 times to the South African 24.

 

The Argies made 14 handling errors and conceded 13 penalties, the Boks 11 handling errors and giving away 9 penalties.

 

Neither team conceded a lineout. Both teams lost a single scrum.

 

 

The scorers:

 

For Argentina:


 

Tries: Tuculet, Leguizamón

Cons: Sánchez, Hernández

Pens: Sánchez 2, Hernández, Iglesias

 

For South Africa:

 

Tries: Habana, Du Toit

Cons: Goosen

Pens: Jantjies 2, Steyn 2

 

Man of the Match: For me, it was Agustín Creevy, both as inspirational leader for his team and especially for the way he managed the referee. He showed all the essential skills of leadership and captaincy.

 

Moment of the Match: Damian de Allende’s solo effort to score a try that might have made all the difference. Just one loose forward or even a back who could support him and drive him over the line might have made all the difference. But there was nobody there, which was the moment in the match that illustrated everything that is wrong with the Boks at the moment.

 

Player Ratings:

 

 

15 Johan Goosen

 

Come back Willie le Roux, all is forgiven. Goosen had his moments when he joined the line, but he brings nothing unpredictable or even vaguely exciting to the game. Ran well on occasion and made a couple of tackles. One very good back-tackle. Line kicking was mediocre. A Ho-Hum sort of afternoon. 4/10

 

14 Ruan Combrinck

 

Out for 4 to 6 weeks, if not longer, he will be missed. No real chances to run with the ball but did exactly what was asked of him. 5/10

 

13 Lionel Mapoe

 

I am beginning to think he might be out of his depth at test match level. Did some good things but his defence was poor. 4/10

 

12 Damian de Allende

 

Heavily criticized for his crashball running, though he did manage to find some space and get the ball through the tackle a couple of times. Still nowhere near the form of 2015. Might benefit from some time on the bench. 4/10

 

11 Bryan Habana

 

How best to describe the game of the man who has just set a new world record for tries scored? The rest of his afternoon was somewhat invisible. Should be leading the rookies, but is not. 4/10

 

10 Elton Jantjies

 

Nope, not a good game. I am convinced he is out of his depth in test match rugby. His BMT is only visible when his entire team is going forward and when he has the protection of a scrumhalf with lots of time to fire long passes. Likes t have space to move in and stutters the moment that space is taken from him. 3/10

 

9 Francois de Klerk

 

The kid had a mediocre game, by his own standards. Did some good things, did some silly things. He is still learning and did not have much influence on the game. An indecisive afternoon, he is less a general and more of an instinctive player. 4/10

 

8 Warren Whiteley

 

As usual, he was great on defence, tried one or two attacking runs too, but ran away from his support at times. Seems to be deliberately avoiding taking a leadership role in the team. The best Bok loosie of the three starters. 5/10

 

7 Teboho Mohoje

 

Very lucky to have stayed on the pitch for the whole game. Head hunting is an art-form best left to people with blowpipes and a penchant for broiled Long Pig. He should have received at least one yellow card for his wayward tackling. Hardly ever used in the lineouts. After a sterling performance in Nelspruit he was mostly invisible in Salta, except when he went hunting heads.3/10

 

6 Francois Louw

 

Should be starting off the bench or not at all. Despite a second half improvement, he is way off his best. Maybe past his use-by date? Maybe it is Kriel’s turn to run on and Notshe’s turn to start off the bench?  3/10

 

5 Lodewyk de Jager

 

Better than last week, but nowhere near 2015 form. Still some questions over his lineout calling. Was more physical and made a good tackle or two. 5/10

 

4 Eben Etzebeth

 

Did his job on defence as usual, and was in the rough stuff all afternoon, but did not seem to be as supportive in the midfield as he can be. Did not steal a lineout ball, which is usual of the big guy. 5/10

 

3 Vincent Koch

 

Not quite sure why he was subbed as he did his job in the scrums and lineouts. Made some silly mistakes on defence. A quiet game. 4/10

 

2 Adriaan Strauss (captain)

 

Not his best game as a captain, and not his best game as a hooker. Was slightly, ever so slightly, more visible in the tight loose, but still seemed innocuous. Not sure he still justifies his selection as a player, never mind as captain. 2/10

 

1 Tendai Mtawarira

 

Did he play on Saturday? 2/10

 

 

Replacements:

 

16 Bongi Mbonambi

 

Not used. Not sure why not, perhaps he would have brought more fire than did Strauss?

 

17 Steven Kitshoff (on for Mtawarira, 46th min)

 

The Ginge Should Be Starting! The moment he came on the Pumas lost parity in the scrums. Made some good tackles too. His ball handling is the best of the front row forwards. 6/10

 

18 Lourens Adriaanse (on for Kock, 46th min)

 

Not sure why he was there. Did nothing except scrum. 4/10

 

19 Pieter-Steph du Toit (on for de Jager, 46th min)

 

Should be starting tests, not coming off the bench! Scored a good try and gave the team some physicality from the moment he arrived.  6/10

 

20 Jaco Kriel (on for Louw, 55th min)

 

Without a doubt the best Bok on view. Should be starting and probably paying the full 80. Not sure why he is being used off the bench. 7/10

 

21 Rudy Paige (on for de Klerk, 74th min)

 

Why was he brought on anyway? Not enough to be rated.

 

22 Morne Steyn (on for Jantjies, 54th min)

 

Better at kicking out of hand than Jantjies, but that is his only strength, always has been one dimensional. Still is.  4/10

 

23 Jesse Kriel (on for Combrinck, 33rd min)

 

A couple of good runs with the ball in hand, some wishy-washy moments on defence. Pretty much what you expect from him. Should perhaps reclaim his 13 jersey. 5/10

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A good summary, but not sure I agree with everything.

Very similar to what we have been saying for 4 years+.

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