Meyer’s breakdown conundrum
With Wales looming, Boks are still battling to retain possession at key area
THE SPRINGBOKS may point to three tries and a 16-point winning margin as tangible proof that it was a successful outcome after a tough afternoon against Italy in Padova at the weekend.
But, going into the final Test of the year against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer needs to find a way in which they can utilise the surfeits of possession that the tight-five are supplying.
Meyer insists that the failure to convert their considerable possession and territory into more points and tries is not down to the gameplan or the mindset, which is a fair point as the Boks have definitely adapted their overall strategy to a much more positive and attacking one.
They have scored some wonderful tries in the last two years, with two of those from this year’s Rugby Championship being nominated for the International Try-of-the-Year award.
Instead, the coach believes the breakdown is the major problem on attack.
“The breakdown is still a tough area to talk about. If you don’t get quick ball … They got quick ball and I thought we were very disciplined at the breakdown. Whenever we had quick ball, we looked like we could play rugby, like in the last 10 minutes,” said Meyer.
“But that’s an area everybody in the world, I think, needs to look at. If it wasn’t for the scrum, we would’ve been in big trouble as they would’ve kicked for the corner and it gives them energy. I really thought that attacking-wise, it was at times some of our best plays. We tried to keep the ball in hand and there were one or two instances when we should’ve scored and didn’t.
“If you are going to get slow ball from the breakdown and then the defence is set, the only other option is to kick in behind them. And if we had to do that in this game, we would’ve got a lot of criticism as well.
“I thought that attackingwise we did brilliantly, and when (Johan) Goosen came in, we cut them once or twice. The problem is not the attack and the attacking mindset – it’s always been there – the problem is that if you don’t get quick ball, it doesn’t matter what you do, the defence is set and they are just going to spoil and come up and put you under pressure.
“And that, for me, is a big problem. We showed what we can do on the front foot, especially in the last 10 minutes.
“It’s just a question of, if you want to play great rugby, you’ve either got to play from turnovers – and they didn’t give us any turnovers – or you have to have quick ball if you want to create your own stuff. And we didn’t get any, apart from at the end.”
But despite the seemingly slow ball from the rucks, replacement loose forward Nizaam Carr showed what could be done with just a little skill and finesse when he ran a wonderful line and then offloaded in the tackle for Cobus Reinach to score.
Similarly, Willie le Roux showed lovely deft hands to put Handré Pollard into a hole to set up Bryan Habana’s late try.
So, if Meyer feels that the approach isn’t the problem, then it has to be the players that he is picking. Marcell Coetzee has shown great improvement in his physicality this year, but he lacks the flair of a Carr or even Francois Louw.
Duane Vermeulen also prefers to run straight and direct at the defence, while Oupa Mohoje is in a similar mould.
Among the backs, Jan Serfontein seldom displays the stepping ability that he showed for the SA Under-20 side. Skipper Jean de Villiers does have the footwork, but he also needs his teammates to run off his shoulder and anticipate an offload. Just bashing away straight up the middle won’t result in tries.
Perhaps Meyer should give Damian de Allende an opportunity in midfield again as he hasn’t seen any action on tour.
Flyhalf Patrick Lambie definitely took on the advantage line much more against Italy, but his passing game let him down at times – especially when a floater didn’t reach JP Pietersen, with the Bok wing knocking the ball on as he reached forward to try and catch it.
Pollard’s long pass to Habana – just before he was smashed in the tackle – was a piece of brilliant skill and technical ability, while his footwork and pace could make him a handful for the Welsh backline, so Meyer should consider bringing him back at No 10.
First-choice loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira (fatigue and cramps) should be fit again, but Trevor Nyakane played so well that he deserves to get another start. Tighthead Jannie du Plessis’s hamstring strain will be evaluated today.
With the overseas-based players unavailable this week, Le Roux will be back at No 15 in place of Johan Goosen, while there will be two new wings as well (Habana and Pietersen can’t play). Cornal Hendricks is sure to be at No 14, with Lwazi Mvovo likely to take over at left wing as Saru announced last night that the only other specialist wing in the squad, WP flyer Seabelo Senatla, will return to the Springbok Sevens team this week and won’t be available for the Wales Test.
The Bok management have not yet decided whether they will fly out a replacement. THERE WERE 23 minutes left at the Stadio Euganeo in Padova on Saturday, and the Springboks were leading by a narrow 8-6 margin.
That is almost as tight as it can get, and the Boks were battling to get into their rhythm and were being met by a strong Italian defensive wall.
So, you would think that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer would think twice before sending on any substitutes at that critical stage – especially a debutant – but he made four changes within a minute of each other to go with Bismarck du Plessis' earlier arrival – Gurthro Steenkamp, Handré Pollard, Willie le Roux and then Nizaam Carr.
And within two minutes, it was Carr who finally found a way through the resolute Italians with his first touch as he ran a dynamic angle from a Le Roux pass, breaking the line and then swivelling around to produce a stunning offload in the tackle to Cobus Reinach to fly over.
“To be honest, I actually didn’t think I was going to go on because the game was so tight – I remember that it was 8-6 at that stage and I wasn’t even on the pitch yet. So, they called up Gurthro, they called up myself, and I was like ‘Yoh!’ – the coach really backed us and, obviously, I am thankful,” the Western Province star
ON THE RUN: Nizaam Carr made his first Test appearance for the Springboks, coming on in the 57th minute, against Italy on Saturday. The Boks had a onerous time in Padova but eventually ran out 22-6 winners.