The Springboks' one-point loss in Perth does not constitute a crisis, writes MARK KEOHANE.
But for a missed penalty touch-finder we’d all be talking about a Springbok win against the Wallabies in Australia. Keep some perspective.
The Springboks will be disappointed because they’d done enough to beat Australia. They hadn’t played particularly well. Then again they haven’t hit the form of a season ago and the team isn’t as strong, given the injuries and unavailability of several players.
But the result was always going to be a one-score swing either way and for the majority of the match the one-score swing favoured South Africa.
Australia started brilliantly from the kick-off. Israel Folau regathered the kick-off and two minutes later finished the movement. He is a wonderful asset to rugby union and a joy to watch with ball in hand.
He troubles any defence and the Boks were no different. Folau scored the first try and his offload in the tackle proved decisive in Australia's last-minute escape.
Australia were second for much of the match and never looked like winning until referee George Clancy yellow-carded Bryan Habana for what he deemed a high tackle on Adam Ashley-Cooper. It was a poor call and what made it even worse was that the referee reviewed the incident on the big screen and was even advised by one of the assistant referees that the tackle challenge was legal.
It shouldn’t have been a penalty, let alone a yellow card.
The incident changed the momentum of the match and Australia were able to reduce a nine-point margin to six and had 10 more minutes to make up the remaining six points.
They dominated possession but a combination of magnificent Bok defence and Australian ineptitude on attack meant the Boks maintained the 23-17 lead. Australia botched a six-on-one attack 5m out and then Bismarck du Plessis showed all his strength to turn over the ball a metre from the Bok line and win the Boks a penalty.
Morné Steyn ordinarily would have kicked it into touch with two minutes to go, Victor Matfield would have won the penalty and Steyn would have kicked for field position and forced Australia to run it back 80m with a minute to go.
The Boks would have played down the clock, given the impotency of the Australian attack throughout the match, the opening two minutes being the exception.
But Steyn missed touch and Australian countered. Kurtely Beale threw a clever inside pass and Folau created the try-scoring pass.
The analysis of the match would be a lot different but for that one kick.
The Boks were strong in the scrum, untroubled in the lineout and in control for most of the match.
They played to a pre-determined game plan that has won them 75% of matches in the past three years. This is not a team that loses easily and only the All Blacks have had their measure since Heyneke Meyer took charge.
The social media outpouring was understandable but it was also hugely inaccurate. The Boks scored a try that illustrated the skill level of the backs but they are not – and never have been – the equal of New Zealand’s. Then again, who is?
Steyn hasn’t made too many schoolboy errors in his Bok career. He won’t forget this one. Bok rugby is certainly not in a crisis, just as the All Blacks were not in a crisis when Australia dominated them in the 12-12 draw in Sydney.
Referee Jaco Peyper was influential in aiding the Wallabies cause and despite the Australia challenge, the All Blacks should have been given a match-winning penalty in the final two minutes. Instead Peyper penalised the All Blacks scrum. He would a week later apologise to the All Blacks for making the wrong decision.
The Boks, but for the referee momentum-switch on the Habana incident, would have won despite not being overly impressive.
The All Blacks a week later put 50 past the Wallabies in Auckland. The Boks will also win the return match against the Australians in Cape Town.
I had the Wallabies to win by a score because the Boks have not been a settled unit this season. The front row is fatigued, the second row has experienced injury interruptions and the Bok loose trio is weaker without Schalk Burger and Willem Alberts.
Fourie du Preez does make a difference and so does Jaque Fourie in the midfield.
The obsession with needing to play like the All Blacks is outrageous. We don’t have the same skill sets, we don’t have the same cultural approach and we don’t need to veer much from the formula that has made the Boks historically a top-two team.
The Boks, when playing, well, play very good rugby. The pack currently is competitive, without being dominant and the backs have never been New Zealand-like in their attack.
A 23-17 Bok win would have been an outstanding result. A one-point defeat ensures closer analysis of those players out of form, fatigued or struggling but it doesn’t represent a crisis.
The Boks will be tough in Wellington, even if they may not be successful. England pushed New Zealand in two of three Tests, Australia got a draw in one of the two and there were large periods in Napier when Argentina enjoyed dominance against the All Blacks.
But the New Zealanders have consistently been the standard bearers since November 2009. The results of the All Blacks in that five-year period has been phenomenal.
The Boks, as is always the case in New Zealand, have enough talent to trouble New Zealand, but to beat them they need everything to go their way, every kick to go over and every touchline clearance to find its target.
Steyn wobbled when least expected. It doesn’t mean the Boks are in a wobble.
Meyer’s success rate is 75% and this was only the second overseas defeat in their last 11 starts.
Be disappointed. Be pissed off and ask questions about player form. But take a deep breath and appreciate a player made a mistake with two minutes to go and it cost the Boks the win.
It happens and will happen again.
One player mistake does not for a crisis make, even if it does for shitty Saturday evening make.
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images