Boks have battled to adapt

The Boks need to produce a more consistent set piece and tactical-kicking performance in the final Test of the season against Wales, reports JON CARDINELLI in Cardiff.

The performance against England was a stunning example of everything that's good about South African rugby. The Bok pack fronted, at the tackle and at the set pieces. The halfbacks used that possession to win territory and create scoring chances. The outside backs, Willie le Roux in particular, were brought into the game at the crucial moment, as was seen in the buildup to Cobus Reinach’s try.

Why the Boks neglected this formula in Dublin and Padova remains a mystery. The performances against Ireland and Italy lacked accuracy, purpose and consistency. In an attempt to be more creative and adventurous, the Boks only succeeded in playing into the opposition’s hands.

Heyneke Meyer has said that conditions as well as the officiating in this part of the world must be taken into account when formulating a game plan. In Dublin, the Boks were out-kicked and out-thought, and their attempts to play the game at pace on a wet field backfired. In Padova, they came up against a physical and defensively sharp Italy side. What helped Italy’s cause was that referee Jérôme Garcès allowed a contest at the breakdown, almost to the point where it was a free for all.

I agree with Meyer when he says that the rugby authorities need to rethink the laws at the ruck and tackle. World Rugby (formerly IRB) also needs to enforce one universal interpretation of these laws. But the fact remains that nothing will change until after the 2015 World Cup. This is how the game is going to be played in the northern hemisphere now, and right through to the World Cup final next year.

The Boks need to accept this. The coming Test against Cardiff is their last of the 2014 season, and their last opportunity in the northern hemisphere before the 2015 global competition.

The lineout was a disappointment in Padova, and it surprised me to see the Boks using one of their traditional weapons, the rolling maul, so rarely. Meyer said afterwards that they were trying something new. Clearly it didn’t work. They also didn’t vary their play nearly enough.

It will be interesting to see how the Boks respond at the breakdown this Saturday. One of their chief breakdown bullies, Schalk Burger, is no longer with the side, having returned to Japan. Willem Alberts and Francois Louw are unavailable. Can the incumbent back row cope with the inevitable assault at ruck time?

Wales will have noted where the Boks struggled against Ireland and Italy. Their forwards will look to flood the breakdown, and their backs will rush and unsettle the Bok halfbacks.

Meyer has complained about the dearth of quick ball on this tour, but that's the way the game is in the northern hemisphere. Every ruck is a battle. This is not Super Rugby, where referees favour the attacking team. You can’t expect the man with the whistle to do you any favours.

Against England, the Boks played a smarter, more tactical game, and that approach paid dividends. They did what Ireland did to them the week before. They suffocated the opposition, and built up a commanding lead. The 31-28 scoreline didn’t reflect their dominance.

I doubt Wales will end their losing streak against the Boks this Saturday. But as Jean de Villiers said before the Italy clash, there's more to be gained on this tour, particularly in the latter two fixtures, than results.

The Boks learned some tough lessons in Dublin, London and Padova, It’s time to take what they’ve learned and apply it in Cardiff. Victory won’t be the mark of success at the Millennium Stadium this weekend. The Boks must show the same attitude and smarts that were so prominent in the battle at Twickenham.

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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