While the Springboks are sweating over Trevor Nyakane’s injury, Rassie Erasmus’ men made good use of their World Cup warm-up match against Japan, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Warm-up matches are a pain in the backside for rugby coaches, especially against teams that you are expected to beat. It’s essentially a lose-lose situation, because if you play badly you will cop some unnecessary criticism, while the possibility of a serious injury is always on the cards.
But this match was a necessary evil for the Springboks ahead of their blockbuster World Cup pool match against the All Blacks in two weeks’ time. It was mostly to give the ‘A’ team some Test minutes in the legs after they last featured on 10 August against Argentina, but also to see how they would go in the steamy conditions with a slippery ball.
The Boks never really got out of third gear or and didn’t overexert themselves against the World Cup hosts, but there were passages of play where they were tested, which should please coach Rassie Erasmus.
It was clear from Faf de Klerk’s play that the Boks weren’t going to speed up the game in those conditions. De Klerk was content to have a look around before clearing the ball off the base or putting in a box kick. The latter was maybe over done.
Game management, however, is going to be key if the weather is going to stay hot and humid throughout the tournament. The Boks are a lot fitter than they have been over the last few years, but this was not the match to have a go and put all the cards on the table.
The Boks’ plan to arrive early in Japan also looks like a masterstroke, as they would have had three weeks to acclimatise by the time the tournaments starts.
They would have also experienced what it’s like to play with a slippery ball in the evening. Japan also kicked quite a bit, and the Bok back three did a decent enough job in fielding their kicks.
But game management, from the Boks’ point of view, needs smart kicking, and that was maybe the one issue coming out of this Test – besides Trevor Nyakane’s injury – that Erasmus is not going to be happy with.
De Klerk’s kicking still a bit of a concern. Because the opposition can see him shaping up for a box kick from really, really early, the kick needs to be deadly accurate and contestable to put pressure on the player fielding it.
A bad kick on 21 September against the All Blacks, with Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett and Rieko Ioane waiting to pounce could be suicidal. De Klerk is also kicking away turnover ball – even in the opposition half – far too often.
If the Boks are going to depend on their defence to win them matches, then they have to make maximum use of turnover ball when they do get it with the speed they have on the flanks.
The other concern for Erasmus is Nykane limping off the park in the second half after coming off as a substitute. A serious injury would be a massive blow for the Boks, as he has been South Africa’s in-form tighthead in 2019. And he is also the swinger of the five front rankers picked for the World Cup.
But all in all Eramus should be happy with the outing, especially if Nyakane injury isn’t too bad.
The World Cup isn’t won before the tournament. The Boks are saving their energy for the real thing. And it’s coming for them on 21 September.
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