SA Rugby magazine identifies some of the good, the bad and the ugly to take away from the Boks’ final warm-up game before the World Cup.
Despite the try-scoring exploits of speedsters Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, the Springboks’ defence laid the foundation for what was in most parts a comfortable victory. The Boks showed solid defensive cohesion, bar a couple of missed tackles towards the latter stages of the fixture which gave the hosts some momentum. The management team, particularly Jacques Nienaber and Felix Jones, will be pleased with the defensive performance after the first hit out in Japan. The Boks made more than double Japan’s tackle count, with a tackle completion rate of close to 90%. With the hosts intent on employing a high-tempo game plan and spreading the ball from the outset, the Boks were dominant in the collisions, with their physicality and line speed forcing Japan into errors. Having been camped in their 22 for long passages early in the second half, the Boks were courageous in defence and scrambled well to hold out the Brave Blossoms. It was only an unforced error on attack that saw Japan score from turnover ball, as the visitors began to fatigue in testing conditions. Should the Boks progress deep into the World Cup, their defence is surely their most important asset and a facet of play they will look to build upon heading into more important Tests in the coming weeks.
In what eventuated to a flattering winning margin for the Boks, there are very few noteworthy concerns which need to be mentioned, with Rassie Erasmus admitting post-game that he was satisfied with his side’s performance. Nitpicking possible work-ons would be to see slight improvements in the Boks’ goal-kicking and tactical kicking game plan. Although Erasmus was happy with the execution of the plan to put pressure on the Japanese with high balls, the tactical kicking from the halfbacks, on occasion, was not as accurate as it could have been. At times, Faf de Klerk’s box kicks became too predictable for the opposition. In order for Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi to compete for possession, those high balls need to be as precise as possible. Additionally, Handre Pollard missed touch a couple of times which is something the Boks could ill afford during pressure situations at the World Cup. And although Pollard slotted 3/5 attempts at goal, the conversions which he missed were relatively easy chances by his own high standards. Those misses might not have mattered too much in terms of the result, but there will be small margins for error come the World Cup when points from the boot are crucial during tight contests.
Fortunately, the news regarding Trevor Nyakane – who limped off with injury after coming on as a replacement – has been confirmed by the Springboks as not being too serious and won’t affect his participation at the World Cup. The spectacle on the field however, was not the greatest with hot and humid conditions contributing to a sloppy, stop-start encounter in the first half. High temperatures and humidity levels before kick-off saw both teams struggle to keep possession for multiple phases, with the wet ball proving difficult to control. The Boks, who anticipated a tough game during their preparation week, found it difficult to adapt to the unfamiliar conditions early on. Before an attempted clearance from his in-goal area, Pollard struggled to grasp the ball at first go, which lead to a partial charge down and counter-attack from the hosts. Kotaro Matsushima’s try also came as a result of a handling error, perhaps due to the conditions late on. If Saturday’s game is an indication of how conditions on match days will be – with most kick-off times being in the late afternoon and early evening – many more scrappy encounters can be expected throughout the tournament. The Boks looked visibly fatigued in the second half but the plan to arrive early in Japan, to acclimatise to the conditions could benefit the squad in their preparation for the World Cup.
Photo: EPA/Franck Robichon