The Springboks reverted to an approach deemed to be conservative and won at Twickenham. Here's to their expansive days being over, writes RYAN VREDE.
So the Springboks employed a territory-based game plan, relied on powerful forward play and dogged, physical and organised defence in London on Saturday, binning the mindless expansive approach that contributed significantly to their downfall against Ireland a week earlier and indeed has been a feature of most of their defeats this season.
The conditions were slightly different to Dublin, where it poured prior to kick-off but then eased, whereas in London it rained steadily throughout. Still, the ball would have been difficult to handle in both conditions and a pragmatic approach (so deemed by the expansive apologists) was clearly fitting in both instances.
However, the Springboks ran a high percentage of their attacking ball at the Aviva Stadium, only to be blunted by a determined and expertly coached Ireland. I wrote last week that they would lose again if they didn't temper this approach. Thankfully they did and always seemed in control of the Test at Twickenham as a result.
The change in the halfback combination contributed to this significantly. I had previously expressed reservations about Cobus Reinach's temperament, but on the evidence of Saturday's performance the scrumhalf isn't lacking in this regard, and, when this characteristic is combined with his appreciable technical skills, it makes for a very valuable player. The fact that Meyer kept him on for the full 80 is testament to the calibre of performance he delivered, and, more notably, says a lot about his belief in Francois Hougaard's suitability for match situations of that ilk.
Two years ago I watched Pat Lambie deliver a very composed performance in the victory over England at Twickenham and he replicated that performance once more at the weekend. Lest we forget, Lambie has now been central to two massive wins – as a substitute against the All Blacks at Ellis Park and as a starter in Saturday's Test. And while Handré Pollard is likely to be coach Heyneke Meyer's preferred pick at flyhalf for the World Cup, in Lambie and Morné Steyn he has players whose experience and skills will bail him out if his wonder kid bombs.
I have written before that I'm not anti-expansive. I simply don't understand why the Springboks have moved so far away from a game plan that, when executed well, is very difficult to counter, in favour of a high-risk, high-reward one. It's not as if the former isn't a potent option. They scored three tries against England thanks to a combination of the pressure they created defensively (think Jan Serfontein's try), traditional forward strength (Schalk Burger's score) and wonderful reading of the defence by Lambie, whose chip kick put Willie le Roux away in a break which culminated in Reinach's try. Add to that the three-pointers gained thanks in large part to infringements after forward-based, multi-phase attack or numerous rolling maul penalties.
It was a victory ground out in a manner that would have vexed those who've advocated the run 'em ragged method. Yet it was a victory, not a defeat in which the aforementioned group consoled themselves with the fact that the Springboks looked to be more like the All Blacks – which in itself is a deeply flawed perception given that the world champions rely heavily on the tactical fundamentals that earned the Springboks a win at Twickenham.
It was also a victory earned playing the type of rugby that will be required at the World Cup. They brought out the bludgeon to win in London, but that doesn't mean their rapier should be left to rust. Earning the right to use it is key.
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