‘Boks must improve at gainline’

Johann van Graan has defended the Bok game plan and reiterated that poor execution rather than planning cost South Africa in Dublin, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.

No need to hit the panic button just yet. This is the message coming out of the Bok camp following an abject performance against Ireland.

The Boks may be hurting after that gutting loss, but they maintain that a subtle change rather than a dramatic overhaul is what’s needed ahead of their tour-defining clash against England.

Speaking at a press conference in London on Monday, Van Graan supplied the press with a series of stats that indicate the Boks performed well in certain departments. According to the Bok attack and forwards coach, South Africa had 63% territory, 55% possession, and secured 100% of their ball from the set piece.

But as Van Graan was quick to admit, this only makes the loss that much more difficult to accept. The Boks didn’t do enough with the ball after securing it at the scrum and lineout. They didn’t make their ventures into opposition territory tell on the scoreboard. Their physicality and decision-making was lacking.

It's something that they will address in training this week. The Bok coaching staff will demand more accuracy and grunt at the point of contact.

The Boks lost the physical battle this past Saturday, and that was the biggest disappointment. They can’t afford another limp showing at the collisions and breakdowns, especially not against a side like England.

‘We weren’t clinical enough,’ Van Graan said frankly. ‘It doesn’t matter how much possession or territory you win, it’s what you do with it that counts.

‘We are disappointed with our performance. We’ve always said that win or lose, we are looking for some consistency in our performance. The execution wasn’t good enough on Saturday.’

Scrumhalf Francois Hougaard has been widely criticised for his poor service from the base of the ruck. Van Graan refused to single out individuals, but did suggest that Hougaard was under pressure because the Bok forwards were losing the collisions.

A repeat performance this Saturday at Twickenham and the Boks run the risk of losing their second big game on the bounce.

‘Your carriers have to dominate at the advantage line, especially in these conditions,’ Van Graan said. ‘The cleaners also have to be very accurate at the breakdowns.’

Throughout the conference, Van Graan gave the impression that the Boks are dying for a crack at England. He refused to admit that a win against the English would compensate for the loss to Ireland.

However, his body language, and indeed that of many of the players I've encountered over the past couple of days, suggests the Boks are desperate to atone for the Dublin defeat.

‘We really love playing at Twickenham, and we respect this England side,’ Van Graan said. ‘It’s a challenge we have been looking forward to for some time.

‘England maul quite a lot, and do it well. They put us under pressure when we played them in the four Tests of 2012. They have a world-class scrum. This contest is going to be a great challenge for us.’

England are coming off a 24-21 loss to the All Blacks. Despite the narrow scoreline, the hosts were outplayed by a more physical and clinical All Blacks side, and like the Boks, they have plenty to prove this weekend.

‘They lost and we lost, and how both teams respond will be significant,’ said Van Graan. ‘That is what Test rugby is about. When you lose, it’s about how you get back up. We can’t wait to get out there.’

England have suffered further injury setbacks, with centre Luther Burrell ruled out of the game against the Boks, and lock Courtney Lawes listed as doubtful after sustaining a concussion.

The Boks have come through their battle with Ireland relatively unscathed. Prop Jannie du Plessis broke a tooth, but this will not prevent him from facing England at Twickenham.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli