The Springboks’ execution rarely matched their intent in what was a disappointing defeat to Wales on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Wales should be commended for the manner in which they defended and won the aerial contests. When they had a shot on goal, they made it count. When they ventured into opposition territory, they translated the bulk of their scoring chances into points.
The Boks carried the ball with intent. They got off the line quickly on defence. And yet, so often they were undone by an individual handling error or a mistimed rush-tackle. The Boks struggled to build momentum on attack or make any telling impression on defence.
Handré Pollard missed two shots on goal to leave five points on the field. More should be made, however, of the decisions taken by the Bok leadership group at important stages of the game. The likes of Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen got it wrong more often than not and effectively let a limited Wales side off the hook.
Collectively, the Boks did not make the most of their scoring chances. In the opening quarter, Pieter-Steph du Toit opted to hold on to the ball instead of switching to a better-placed teammate. The flanker went on to score, but the try was disallowed after it was confirmed that he had stepped into touch.
RG Snyman gave away a soft penalty when he played one of the Wales players in the air at a lineout. The Boks had dominated territory up to that point. They had Wales stretched and pinned back in their own 22. That penalty, however, allowed Wales to exit. It proved a costly error, as Wales went on to boss territory (58%) for the remainder of the first half.
Malcolm Marx and Snyman combined for a big miss on defence in the lead-up to Tomas Francis’ try in the 10th minute. Aphiwe Dyantyi came in off his wing in the 16th, and was forced to watch as a pass sailed over his head to the unmarked Wales players out wide.
Wales did well to finish their tries, but the Boks should feel disappointed with the quality of their tackling and defensive positioning.
In some instances, the Bok defence was passive, especially around the fringes. In others, individuals rushed out of line in an attempt to shut down the space of the opposition. Neither ploy proved particularly effective, as the final scoreline of 20-11 confirms.
As was the case in the corresponding fixture in Cardiff last year, the Boks were well beaten in the air. While Wales struggled at the scrums, they won the breakdown and gainline battles. They kicked and chased well, and the Boks simply couldn’t rise to the challenge.
Embrose Papier may have scored if he had collected his own kick close to the tryline at the end of the first half. Jesse Kriel got over the line in the dying seconds, but was held up by Ellis Jenkins – who had an absolute stormer of a game.
The Bok scrum won a penalty under the Wales posts shortly before the break. Instead of knocking the ball between the uprights and going to half-time with an eight-point deficit, they got greedy.
They opted to set another scrum and push for a seven-pointer. Wales held their own, though. They won a breakdown penalty in a subsequent phase to bring the half to an end with the scoreboard reading 14-3.
The game changed in the second half in that the Boks enjoyed 71% of territory. And yet, despite spending more time in the Welsh half, and despite having multiple chances to score, they only managed to add eight points to their tally.
The Boks would build and build, and then relinquish possession via a handling error or poor decision. They eventually capitalised when Willie le Roux threw a quick pass to an unmarked Kriel. At 14-8 after 56 minutes, the opportunity was still there to win the game.
But the Boks managed the game poorly in the final quarter. They continued to lose the aerial contest, and they continued to battle at the breakdowns.
The situation was often exacerbated by indecisiveness. Elton Jantjies dropped a high ball in the 68th minute. No Bok player managed to secure the ball thereafter, and it was hacked ahead by the Welsh. The hosts then proceeded to chase and win a penalty.
There was no question of kicking the ball into the corner and setting a lineout. Wales took the three points, and continued to put the pressure on the visitors.
Wales had another chance in the 72nd minute. Again they made it count, with replacement flyhalf Dan Biggar slotting the penalty to take the game away from the Boks.
The loss in Wales served to show why this South African side is not yet the finished article. Rassie Erasmus and company will need to tweak and polish this team a great deal in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup.
Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP