The Springboks need to improve their fitness as well as their finishing in the lead-up to the World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Should we read anything into the Boks’ recent Test results? It’s hard to say.
In 2007, the Boks lost three of their four Tests in the Tri-Nations, but went on to win the World Cup. The class of 2011 achieved similar results in the build-up to the global tournament, but would fall at the first play-off hurdle in New Zealand.
What is obvious at this stage is that the Boks aren’t where they need to be in terms of fitness and match-sharpness. Heyneke Meyer admitted as much in the wake of South Africa’s 26-12 win against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
Indeed, Meyer has been brutally honest about South Africa’s inhibiting and counter-productive system for some time. At the start of 2015, he pleaded with the five Vodacom Super Rugby franchises to manage the elite players with a view to the World Cup. It was hoped that these players would be in a position to peak, both mentally and physically, at the business end of the World Cup in October.
Sadly, things have not worked out as Meyer had hoped. When the extended squad got together ahead of the warm-up match against the World XV in Cape Town, the majority of the group failed the initial fitness tests. Meyer and his coaching staff were forced to initiate a gruelling conditioning programme with the aim of rectifying the situation.
We’re yet to witness the benefits of this programme. It is hoped that the Boks will be at their physical peak by the time they arrive in England next month. However, if their recent performances in 2015 are anything to go by, they still have a lot of work to do.
The Boks have fired in the first half and then faded in the second in three of their four Tests this season. In the other Test, namely the big defeat to Argentina in Durban, they managed to outscore their opponents 12-10 in the second stanza. And yet they still lost that game 37-25.
That was the only game of the four that witnessed points scored by the Boks in the all-important fourth quarter (eight). That’s right, the Boks failed to score a single point in the final 20 minutes of the Tests in Brisbane, Johannesburg, and more recently in Buenos Aires.
The Wallabies trailed the Boks 10-7 at half-time, but moved up a gear and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. The scores were level at the break in Johannesburg, but the All Blacks scored 10 points in the dying stages.
What some may forget is that the All Blacks took control at a crucial stage despite having just 14 men on the park. The Boks failed to punish the visitors while lock Sam Whitelock was in the sin bin, and it cost them dearly.
This past Saturday, the Boks failed to put points past the Pumas when lock Tomás Lavanini was off the field. On that occasion, it didn’t cost the Boks the game. What it did show once again is that the Boks tend to run out of petrol as the game races towards its climax. Their accuracy also let them down in this period.
Meyer and his lieutenants have a month to bring the Boks up to speed. In the knockout stage of the World Cup, there is a chance that a contest will go to extra time. The Boks need to ensure that they can maintain their intensity for 100 minutes, and that fatigue doesn’t compromise their decision-making, composure or execution at the decisive moment.
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