The attack, as well as the management of the subs, will be in the spotlight when the Springboks go hunting an 80-minute performance in Edinburgh, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Should we be surprised by the Boks’ record of 50% after 12 Tests?
Rassie Erasmus made it clear at the start of his tenure that he intended to experiment with new players and tactics a year out from the World Cup. He’s certainly made good on the promise of player development when you consider that 19 new players have been capped in 2018.
That said, South African rugby fans are still waiting for this Bok side to click. They beat England 2-1 in the series played earlier this year, and scored a monumental victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand. Their overall record – as well as a closer look at their performances in each of the 12 Tests – suggests they are still struggling to control matches.
The Boks dominated for much of the contest in Twickenham two weeks ago. Their inability to translate that dominance into tries and points – with handling and decision-making in contact proving one of the biggest disappointments – cost them dearly.
They had their chances against France in Paris last week. One could say that they delivered when it mattered most, scoring the winning try via a well-executed lineout maul in injury time. However, had they lost, more would have been made about the opportunities they spurned over the course of 80 minutes.
Perhaps this is why Erasmus is looking to field his strongest available combination against Scotland on Saturday. The Bok coaches believe that the side has built up some momentum after the games against England and France. They feel that the side will produce a more accurate performance in the third tour fixture.
The coaches, as well as the players, will be in the spotlight. It’s not enough that the Boks produce a clinical first-half performance in Edinburgh. The subs need to make the most of their opportunities in the second stanza, and Erasmus needs to ensure that he deploys his ‘finishers’ at the correct juncture.
The Boks have blown hot and cold this season. When they have gone on to win, they have been lauded for their composure and tenacity. When they have failed to convert their chances and when they have let slip a crucial opportunity at the death, they have been duly slammed.
Indeed, the Boks have been consistently inconsistent in 2018. While Erasmus and company should be granted some leeway as they develop a wider squad and rebuild the structures, these inconsistencies cannot be tolerated indefinitely.
|GAME||FINAL SCORE||FIRST-HALF SCORE||SECOND-HALF SCORE|
|NEW ZEALAND 1||36-34||24-17||12-17|
|NEW ZEALAND 2
*Bok scores first. Bok wins and leads in bold
The loss to Wales in Washington DC was written off to inexperience. Wales won 22-20 after leading 14-3 at half-time. A poor start cost a second-string Bok side on that occasion.
The first team started the series against England in the worst possible fashion. Somehow they bounced back from a 21-point deficit to lead 29-27 at half-time. They wobbled again in the second stanza, but managed to finish on the right side of the result.
They trailed 12-0 during the early stages of the second Test against England, but fought back to lead 13-12 at the break. A stronger showing in the latter stages allowed them to close out the match and secure the series.
And so it continued. Argentina led 14-10 in the Rugby Championship opener in Durban. The Boks came out firing in the second half, and finished the game with six tries and a bonus point.
They were less impressive during the second stanza of the Test in Australia, scoring zero points. Some might say that a win in New Zealand requires no critical analysis, and yet something should be read into the fact that the Boks went down 12-0 in the first quarter. They fought back to lead 24-17 at half-time, but were outscored 17-12 in the second period.
A second-half slump, as well as some injury-enforced substitutions, contributed to the Boks’ defeat to New Zealand in Pretoria. The hosts conceded 26 points in the final half hour to lose 32-30.
The Boks troubled England throughout the first half of the recent game in Twickenham. And yet, despite their physical dominance, and despite the fact that Maro Itoje was in the sin bin for 10 minutes, they only managed to lead 8-6 at the break. Their second-half effort amounted to one penalty goal. That was never going to be enough.
The Boks should be applauded for how they fought back in Paris, first when they were 23-9 down early in the second half, and again when they trailed by four points during injury time.
The performance as a whole, however, confirmed that their finishing and game management require work and that they are not yet the finished article.
Photo: Henry Browne/Getty Images