The Springboks did not allow the All Blacks to play their best game at Newlands, writes JOHN PLUMTREE.
The All Blacks said they expected a tough contest against the Springboks at Newlands and that proved to be the case. Most rugby folk in New Zealand were pleased to see that after the All Blacks’ 57-0 win in Albany. The world champions win a lot, and often by big margins, so it was great to see them tested and taken right down to the wire by the Boks.
I don’t think the All Blacks weren’t at their best because they had already clinched the Rugby Championship title and didn’t have anything to play for. They weren’t at their best because the Boks didn’t allow them to be. South Africa’s set pieces functioned better, especially the lineout, they were aggressive at the breakdown, they built a lot of pressure with the ball they had, they forced the All Blacks to make a lot of tackles (240 compared to 161 by the Boks), and they won a lot of the collisions on the gainline.
However, the All Blacks’ attack was disrupted by losing Beauden Barrett in the 33rd-minute of the match. They didn’t pose the same threat at the gainline, and Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty were anonymous on attack after Barrett left the field.
The Bok defence was much better than in Albany. Any defensive system is good if the players work together, trust each other and make their tackles, and that was the case for the Boks at Newlands. Their decision-making around defensive rucks, and which ones to go to, was better, and that gave them better numbers in the defensive line. We saw quite a big wall of Bok defenders as a result.
In Albany, a lot of Boks went off their feet and wasted themselves at the ruck. The Boks also made their one-on-one tackles in Cape Town, which made a big difference.
South Africa scored three tries at Newlands, to take their tally for the Rugby Championship to 17 in six games. They scored just eight in last year’s tournament, which shows their attack has improved, but it’s still a work in progress. A lot of the times it’s very lateral, which makes it easy for the defenders to push them towards the touchline or cut them down behind the advantage line. You need to look at the source of the ball – the set pieces – and that hasn’t been as consistent as they would have liked. When the set pieces functioned well at Newlands, the Boks were able to build pressure with the ball and build their confidence. If you’re not breaking the line, you need to hold on to the ball to get the opposition’s tackle count up. There’s also some technical stuff that they need to get smarter at, in terms of their shape.
Several Springboks had big games in Cape Town. Malcolm Marx was the standout performer. He showed real strength over the ball to win four turnovers, he carried the ball strongly and his lineout throwing was good. Eben Etzebeth also carried the ball well, while Steven Kitshoff had a really good game at loosehead prop. I was worried about the selection of Pieter-Steph du Toit at blindside flank because I think he’s a better lock, but I was really impressed by him. He played well in the loose and carried strongly. Francois Louw was a menace at No 8.
Two Boks who did receive some criticism were the halfbacks, Ross Cronjé and Elton Jantjies.
Cronjé’s contestable kicks tended to go too far, so his chasers were unable to apply pressure on the receiver. It was from one such kick that David Havili counter-attacked and Damian McKenzie scored a try. Cronjé also needs to work hard on his passing game. However, he does understand the Bok game plan well and what they are trying to achieve, and I think he’s the best No 9 in South Africa at the moment.
Jantjies only missed one kick at goal and had a kick charged down that led to Crotty’s controversial try. Like Barrett, Jantjies relies on lightning quick ball, but his decision-making isn’t quite as good as the All Blacks flyhalf. Handré Pollard came off the bench and created Jean-Luc du Preez’s try by taking the ball to the line and then offloading in the tackle to Marx. But he seems to get injured a lot, so Jantjies is probably the Boks’ best bet at 10 for now.
There were two controversial moments in the Cape Town Test. I thought Crotty lost control of the ball when scoring his try and that the TMO got it wrong. I also think the referee made a poor call when red-carding Damian de Allende for a late hit on Lima Sopoaga. It was maybe a penalty, but not a yellow or a red card. It looked to me like De Allende was pulling out of the tackle and it certainly didn’t look dangerous. You see so many that are much worse.
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