Twickenham win just papered over cracks
Awin is a win, as the old saying goes, and when it is against England at Twickenham, it’s particularly satisfying. It was a great feeling last Saturday night to be a South African among all the subdued English hacks who had overhyped their team into the world-beaters that, on last week’s evidence, they are a long way from being.
But while the win was gratifying, once the emotion dies down hopefully the administrators will show a bit of rugby intelligence and do what I said they should in this column last week – look beyond the result of one match and do a proper analysis of where the Boks are at the end of a season where there have been two defeats to every one victory against top nations.
In fact, if they do know the game, they shouldn’t even need to look too far beyond the 80 minutes we saw last Saturday to figure out that the Boks are an undercoached team and that an injection of imaginative thinking coupled with technical expertise is sorely needed.
Skipper Victor Matfield said afterwards that the win had been a triumph for accuracy and execution. The big man had just played 60 minutes of a Test match with a broken rib, so perhaps we should excuse him. He hadn’t yet done what I did on the Sunday morning after the match, which was to watch the game again on video.
What the replay showed was that in a weird way, the Springboks’ finest victory of the rugby year did as much to expose the weaknesses in their game as some of the big defeats they suffered in the TriNations in mid-year.
The Boks won the match by bludgeoning England into submission at forward and through their physicality. They showed that they still have the grunt to beat most opposing teams on a given day when they are motivated enough and angry enough. That has never been a point of debate in South African rugby. It is summed up by that little word “ gees”.
But if the Boks are going to ever reign like true world champions they need consistency. That means they are going to have to stop looking so clueless on those days that opposing teams do manage to front up to their physicality, or on those others when teams like New Zealand play in such a way that negates the Bok strengths.
What was there to the Bok game last week apart from grunt and, okay, an improved defensive effort and a more accurate kicking game than they had managed for quite a while? What the video showed was a slew of elementary errors and a level of disorganisation on attack that would have embarrassed most of the provincial coaches in this country.
I was at the game having my fingers frozen off, so did not listen to the commentary at the time, but when I heard it the next day I couldn’t help but agree with the comment made at half-time: “That was possibly the most one-sided 6-all half in the history of the game”. With all the possession they had, the Boks should have been 20 points ahead.
England did defend well, but the Boks helped them by dropping balls, running into each other and making a complete mess of their set-plays. There was none of the organisation and precision we see in the strategies of the top South African provincial teams and Super rugby franchises.
While they got the right result, and the forward effort was huge, if there was a step-up in overall rugby quality from the previous games of the tour, then it doesn’t say much for their other performances.
That has to be a concern to South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins and his fellow administrators. Being blinded by the result is okay for fans and people who take just a surface view of everything can be excused their ignorance.
For most people there hopefully are more important things in life to worry about, so being completely clued up about rugby shouldn’t be a requirement.
But for the people who run the game it should be different. They should have the rugby acumen to know just by looking at the Bok games this year that while they are clearly intent on sticking with the Jake White template, their application and execution of that game has now regressed to a point where Scotland have a chance of beating them on a given day.
The debate over whether the Boks should perhaps be reinventing themselves, a contention you would in all likelihood hear from Sharks Currie Cup winning coach John Plumtree, is a separate issue. What is at issue is the way the Boks have been allowed to reach a stage where, if they do get their kick and chase right, it happens only once in a while.