The Springboks’ phenomenal set-piece and defensive performance against Japan was undermined by poor handling and discipline in their 26-3 quarter-final win, writes JON CARDINELLI at the Tokyo Stadium.
We’ve seen this movie before.
Four weeks ago, the Boks dominated the All Blacks at the set pieces and created a number of scoring chances during the early stages. Poor decision-making and worse handling, however, saw them spurning those opportunities and failing to take control of the contest.
On Sunday, South Africa manhandled Japan at the scrum – even in the period during the first half when they were reduced to seven men after Beast Mtawarira was sent to the sin bin. They completed several telling steals at the lineout and appeared to average 15 to 20m with every one of their well executed mauls.
The Boks marched Japan some 40m downfield in the lead-up to Faf de Klerk’s try in the 66th minute. That maul was the play of the game – the moment where the Bok behemoths combined to form a unit that was more powerful and destructive than the sum of its parts.
Unfortunately, it was a rare example of the Boks putting points on the board after harnessing the awesome power at the set piece. Their passing and decision-making often let them down, and they should be disappointed that they didn’t put more tries past a game yet limited Japan.
The Boks contained the much-hyped Japan attack well. The communication on defence was excellent as was the execution of several spot tackles that thwarted many a promising surge. As expected, the offensive defence created several attacking opportunities.
How different the flow of this match may have been if the Boks had made more of those intercepts and turnovers. Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am and several others did so well to make the initial read and poach. From there, however, they failed to maintain their composure and quickly surrendered possession back to Japan.
The South Africans’ discipline also let them down. Mtawarira’s spear-tackle in the 10th minute may have compromised them to a more telling degree if they were facing a side like the All Blacks or England. The Boks conceded six penalties in the first half alone and this impacted on their ability to generate momentum.
They weren’t done any favours by referee Wayne Barnes, who overlooked several transgressions by the hosts. While Japan did well to handle the Boks’ kicking game, there were several instances where they appeared to take a South African player out in the air.
Another official may have penalised or even yellow-carded Kotaro Matsushima for hooking Makazole Mapimpi around the chest and slamming him into the Tokyo Stadium turf. When the incident was replayed on the big screen,however, Barnes ignored it and Matsushima simply shrugged.
That said, the Boks must learn to manage these incidents better and to cope when calls don’t go their way. They will face greater challenges in the coming weeks and will have to adapt a lot quicker – especially at the breakdown – to the management style of the ref on duty.
The Boks showed once again on Sunday that they have everything they need to win this tournament. They need to start converting more of their attacking chances, though, and ensuring that they get enough reward for their outstanding set-piece and defensive effort.
Japan – Penalty: Yu Tamura.
South Africa – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi (2), Faf de Klerk, Conversion: Handre Pollard, Penalties: Pollard (3).
Japan – 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 James Moore, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Lomano Lemeki.
South Africa – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
Photo: Clive Rose – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images