CRAIG LEWIS says traditional Test rugby strengths enabled the Boks to come away with a hard-fought 19-13 win over Ireland on Saturday, according to SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats.
On more than one occasion during the three-Test series against Ireland, Allister Coetzee has reiterated that territorial, defensive and set-piece dominance needs to take priority over aesthetically pleasing ball-in-hand rugby.
That point was embodied by the Boks on Saturday, with the host benefiting from just 32% of possession and having to make 151 tackles to 70. Although the Springboks did miss 18 tackles, it was their ability to repeatedly repel the Ireland attack and often knock players back in the collisions that proved to be a decisive factor in their victory.
Warren Whiteley was outstanding on defence, making three tackles in the opening two minutes, and 22 overall, while missing none. Francois Louw also contributed with 13 tackles.
And perhaps fittingly, considering the mammoth effort the Boks put in on defence, it was an outstanding ball-and-all tackle from Faf de Klerk in the 81st minute that enabled his teammates to swarm the breakdown and win a penalty that finally thwarted Ireland.
Besides their work on defence, the Boks also employed a well-rounded kicking game, putting 31 kicks in play, compared to 23 from Ireland, while Elton Jantjies used the contestable kick to good effect on several occasions.
The Springboks’ set piece also functioned well, with a couple of penalties being won at a dominant scrum, while there was just one lineout lost on the night. This set piece has especially functioned well for the Boks all series.
In the opening exchanges on Saturday, though, the Boks again battled to assert any real ascendancy, with Ireland enjoying 74% of possession and 82% of territory as they opened up a 7-3 lead after the first quarter, while making more than triple the number of carries and metres.
By the end of the first half, Ireland had made 185m to South Africa’s 82m, completed 54 carries to 28, beaten six defenders to two and executed 76 passes to 31.
Yet the Springboks’ scrum strength and improved kicking game enabled them to build some pressure during the latter stages of the half, with Jantjies slotting a penalty and executing a perfectly weighted cross-kick to create a try for JP Pietersen.
It enabled the Boks to establish a somewhat fortuitous 13-10 lead at the break, particularly considered they’d had just 33% of the possession and conceded five penalties and a yellow card.
A gutsy second-half defensive display then enabled the Boks to come away with a crucial win, which made a mockery of the stats that saw Ireland make 370m to 150m, 154 carries to 61, 198 passes to 75 and beat 18 defenders to four.
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