After the Boks’ disappointing defeat by Australia, CRAIG LEWIS identifies five points to ponder, including whether there should be a return to a five-three bench split.
The Boks aren’t the finished product, but it’s not cause for panic
The Springboks aren’t accustomed to losing. Sunday’s surprise loss to the Wallabies was just their second defeat in the past 18 Test matches. The recent comeback win over the British & Irish Lions was fuelled by plenty of emotion and a sheer bloodyminded refusal to be defeated. The third Test was decided by the smallest of margins, and throughout the series it was the Boks’ carefully constructed kicking game and remarkable defence that was at the heart of victory.
It was no surprise to see the Boks adopt a low-risk approach in the context of the occasion, and when considering the limited game time between the World Cup and Lions series. The Springboks are never going to stray far from their strengths, but there is no doubt that Jacques Nienaber – for all his love of defence – will want to see the side begin to evolve their attacking variety and improve their execution by the end of the year.
The Boks won’t always be able to live off scraps, a powerful maul and set piece, or a bit of Cheslin Kolbe magic. It’s part of the reason Elton Jantjies had previously held an important role as an alternative flyhalf option on the bench who could offer a different style of play when coming on.
Temptation grows to revert to five-three bench composition
As the Boks review Sunday’s loss, there will be no cause for panic or wholesale changes. However, a subtle personnel change could indeed involve going the route of bringing Jantjies back into the match-day 23.
This could allow Damian Willemse to cover centre and fullback, while offering an experienced specialist backup at flyhalf. An alternative option is to consider a return for Morne Steyn, who wouldn’t offer the same X factor as Jantjies, but would provide far more surety when it comes to goal-kicking.
Springboks do need goal-kicking backup plan
Continuing on this point, the option of Steyn on the bench could allow the Boks to even consider going the route of shifting Pollard into a role at 12 during the second half if he is battling off the kicking tee.
There is no doubt the Springboks will not want to find themselves in a situation where they are having to consider emergency goal-kicking alternatives such as Faf de Klerk or Cheslin Kolbe. That will never happen, and Pollard will continue to have the full backing of the coaches to come good in terms of his place-kicking, but it could relieve some pressure if there is a backup plan in place.
Marx’s impact is as potent as ever
There weren’t a lot of individual standouts from this past Sunday’s encounter, but Marx very nearly won the Test for the Springboks. He scored two tries from the back of powerful rolling mauls, which he had effectively set up with accurate lineout feeds on a night where he successfully completed seven throws from seven.
In his 34 minutes of action, he also hit eight rucks, made five tackles and the joint-most carries of any Springbok (six). The current Bok system means the two hookers share virtually the same amount of game time, and Marx is viewed as the best option off the bench. Time and time again, he continues to provide the most explosive element in the Bomb Squad.
Discipline, defence can only get better
For the Springboks, 21 missed tackles, 11 penalties and two yellow cards will have hurt as much as the end result against the Wallabies. It was a defensive malfunction and missed tackle that led to the Wallabies’ solitary try, while ill-discipline frustratingly crept in when Australia were in goal-kicking range.
You can expect the Boks to place a big focus on improving their decision-making and discipline this week, while they will have taken note of how the Wallabies sent runners into the narrow channels, and will also be desperate to avoid any repeat of shooting defenders uncharacteristically straying offside.