Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett has thrown down the gauntlet to New Zealand, stating that the Boks are the best in the business and the men in black need to show the strength of character to play the 100th Test in South Africa.
After the full time whistle in the match against Argentina, Mallett credited the Springboks for showing the set-piece and maul dominance that we have come to expect. He did, however, acknowledge that the backline play was less than incisive and the Boks were too predictable.
“I think the main thing is that the Argentine side knows what’s coming from South Africa, they know precisely what we’re going to do off of lineouts – we’re going to drive them, or play De Allende short, or play Wiese outside of Am.
“They understand what we are doing so we’re getting no linebreaks, we’re a bit lateral. Unfortunately we’re not creating tries through our backline play.
“As soon as you get middle or back ball at the lineout, they’re in trouble. We’ve persisted with this and they have persisted with lifting legs or coming in from the side of the maul. And we’re getting penalties, we’re playing to the laws. Our maul is very effective, and it’s a big strength of ours.
“We were pushing for the bonus point for the third try and we ended up conceding [at the end]. So it was a frustrating game and not a memorable game. A stop start game and neither side’s attack really got going.
“The referee had a huge part to play in this game, the penalty count would have been up around 25 and I think Argentina would have been close to 20 of those.”
One sparkling moment in an otherwise subdued affair was Lukhanyo Am’s brilliant steal on the Springbok try line. The Bok centre ripping the ball from an Argentine player and preventing a certain try. Mallett stated that moments like that are simply not down to luck.
“It was a brilliant interception. Lucky? I don’t know. He’s got such good anticipation and seems to find himself in the right place at the right time so often that I want to say it’s more skill than luck.”
After an injury to Jaden Hendrikse left the Boks without a scrumhalf, Cheslin Kolbe filled in in the role. Mallett was ribbed ribbed by co-pundit Breyton Paulse about finally getting his wish! Mallett chuckled off the joke but affirmed that Kolbe is good enough to play (almost) anywhere.
‘The Messi of Rugby! He can play scrumhalf, flyhallf, centre, wing! He just can’t play tighthead prop.
Despite a less than polished performance, Mallett rubbished any suggestions that the Boks should move away from their unique style of play arguing that it is effective and at Test level that is what’s required.
“Test matches are there to win, and what Rassie and Jacques have done is they have gotten the team to win. The Springboks play within the laws, we were penalised far less than Argentina, even with the passion with which we play the game.
“So don’t criticise South Africa for playing this type of Test match rugby when they can win. If they lost, then you can criticise them. 57-0 in 2017 against the All Blacks, 38-3 against Ireland, with exactly the same group of players.
“In 2017 we suffered humiliating losses when we tried to run the ball, it didn’t work much. Now we’re beating the teams that beat us by plenty before by playing to our strength.
“It is not up to us to change the way we play because it’s not attractive. You play the way you play best in order to beat the opposition. If people want to change the way we play, they have to change the laws. Because we’re the best at what we do.”
Mallett was confident that the Boks were ready to prove themselves against their arch rivals the All Blacks and went as far as to say that South Africa were better than their rivals in many key areas of the game.
“So let’s get New Zealand over here, they’re the best at running the ball. We’re the best at tackling people who run the ball and turning them over.
“We’ve got a far better set-piece than them, we’ve got a better maul than them, we’ve got a better kicking game than them. It’s a clash of two different styles of play.”
Touching on New Zealand’s decision to cancel their Test matches against South Africa and Australia, Mallett was clear that the All Blacks needed to show some character and honour their commitments to the competition.
“I really hope we have the Rugby Championship in South Africa starting on the 11th of September. We need to play New Zealand and Australia.
“I can’t use the word on TV, but the All Blacks need to show the ‘strength of personality’ to come over here and play the 100th Test in South Africa. ‘Cojones’ – that’s the word in Argentina!”