SuperSport pundit and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett has reflected on the South Africa A loss to the Bulls, cautioning of the threats the British & Irish Lions have at their disposal for the Test series.
Mallett said after the SA A game that the difference between the sides ultimately was that the Bulls were more clinical in taking their opportunities.
“The Bulls missed their opportunities in the first half and everything stuck in the second half. Suddenly their behind-the-back plays were working in the second half.
“They got the ball out well and Goosen took on the defensive line well twice really effectively. That little out-the-back pass was brilliant, and his other break was really good – some poor defence there from outside-in.
“The key difference was the SA A team didn’t take their opportunities. We saw Specman make two beautiful breaks; the first one he shouldn’t have passed because there was a gap on his inside and Goosen did very well to cover Reinach; and the second time he was just too fast for the players on his outside.
“There were two opportunities there that they didn’t take. In a game like this it is literally about taking your opportunities when they present themselves.”
The former Springbok coach said that the poor performance from the SA A side was also a consequence of their fragility at set piece.
“A big disappointment for the SA A team is their mauling. They had quite a few opportunities, particularly at the end of the game after a really good kick by Elton Jantjies. But they were unable to finish them off with a decent driving maul.
“Eight lineout losses just kills it. You’ve got to go in with a 95% win ratio in your lineouts. And hopefully the Springboks will be able to do that. Secondly, scrum dominance is something that we expect and we didn’t get it today.”
Mallett suggests that unfortunately a number of players have not taken their opportunity to show the selectors what they can do ahead of the Test series.
“I think they’ve got a very good idea of their 23 going into the first Test. Your opportunity to put your hand up today has now been limited because a couple of guys like Goosen who said, ‘Hang on a sec, don’t forget about me’.
“In a performance like this, when you lose to a provincial side, they [SA A] have had time together, I think it’s going to solidify the 23 who were already in the back of the minds of the coaches. Those guys are going to go in with the hope of the nation on their shoulders.”
One SA A player that Mallett feels did produce a performance he can be proud of is the mercurial flier Aphelele Fassi. With question marks over the availability of Makazole Mapimpi, Fassi may have an outside chance of appearing in the Test side.
“I though Fassi was very good for 50, 60 minutes but at the end of the game he didn’t get much ball. If he got the ball that the Bulls managed to produce for their backline, I think he would have been very dangerous.
“He was my man of the match up until Goosen did these extraordinary things and really turned the game around.”
Following the match between the Stormers and the British & Irish Lions, Mallett was reluctant to discuss the Cape outfit’s showing and instead looked forward to what the Test series might hold.
“They [B&I Lions] know they are better than our franchises and by 50 points. They are comfortably better, which is understandable, they are international rugby players and our guys are young debutants starting out their professional careers, shorn of experience and size and strength.
“The Stormers didn’t have players that got them across the advantage line and allow them to play an offloading game on the front foot, whereas the Lions did. Once they get momentum they are very dangerous.
“They [B&I Lions] will think about the SA A game, that’s the one game – not any of these other games. ‘Why weren’t we able to get on the front foot against SA A?’ Because of our [the Boks’] defensive aggression.
“We have to do it for every second for 80 minutes, because if we slack they have the ability to score tries at any given moment. We proved it in the World Cup we can do it.
“Now it’s just a question of whether Jacques Nienaber can put together a squad of 23 who can stay physically aggressive on defence and tactically astute enough to stop these Lions players from being creative.
“It’s going to be a tough Test series, I can assure you. If they manage to match us in the forwards, and they mixed all the way through the tour so we haven’t ever seen their full Test pack, we’ve got our work cut out.”