Halfback horror brings Boks low

Francois Hougaard and Handré Pollard failed their first test in northern hemisphere conditions, writes JON CARDINELLI at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The Boks had promised physicality. They had promised composure. Ultimately, they would fail to deliver on both counts.

The performance served up at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday was one of the worst of the 2014 season. Physical intent, defensive organisation, tactical intelligence, decision-making … the Boks were found wanting in all departments.

And against whom? A second-rate Ireland missing the bulk of their first-choice players. Heyneke Meyer may try to spin this as a wake-up call, as a valuable lesson a year out from the World Cup. But if this contest was to be viewed in isolation, one would have to say that Ireland were ordinary, and the Boks were just plain awful.

Hougaard and Pollard were on the back foot for much of the match. The Bok forwards were not only physically outplayed, but tactically out-thought. Ireland were the better side at the set pieces and breakdowns.

The Boks’ situation was exacerbated by the option-taking in the No 9 and 10 positions. Hougaard was particularly ponderous when collecting the ball at the base of the ruck. The quality of his passing was unforgivably poor and it wasn’t surprising to see him subbed after 56 minutes.

Pollard is 20 and playing in his first season as a Test player, and this match was his first in northern hemisphere conditions. However, this was an opportunity to make a statement less than a year out from the World Cup. It was an opportunity he did not take.

The Bok pack struggled and Hougaard’s service was not of a high standard. But when Pollard did receive the ball, he battled to assert himself and was largely indecisive.

Credit should go to the Ireland defence, as they were quick off the line and did well to contain Hougaard and Pollard. The forwards succeeded in rattling their South African counterparts, and that pressure told on the Bok halfbacks.

The decision-making of the Bok leadership group also cost the visitors on the day. Twice the Boks had a chance to shoot for goal in the first half, and twice they turned down the chance and kicked to the corner.

On both occasions, the Ireland forwards absorbed the pressure, and then forced the turnover. The Boks did score a try via the maul in the second half after kicking to the corner, but a return of one from three in that situation is not good enough. A rethink is required.

I was surprised to see that Jonny Sexton won the official Man of the Match award. Ireland were dominant for most of the game, but some poor line kicking by Sexton often gifted possession back to the South Africans. However, you can’t argue with his flawless goal-kicking.

The Boks have started their four-Test tour in the worst possible fashion. This marks the first loss for Meyer’s Boks in Europe, and a 14-point defeat is some hammering. The Boks failed to adapt to the conditions, the referee, and their young halfbacks buckled under the pressure. There is much to rectify ahead of the next clash against England, and perhaps a few changes are required in personnel.

Photo: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli