The Springboks will not finish the 2016 season with a 50% win record unless they address their goal-kicking woes, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The emotional reaction to the Boks’ first-ever loss to the Pumas in Argentina is understandable. Fans want someone or something to blame, be it the coach, the players themselves, or a notoriously flawed system that continues to hinder more than help the national side.
People are grasping for reasons to explain the Boks' rapid decline. In many cases, they are finding comfort in cliches and thus failing to understand why the Boks are battling to such an embarrassing degree.
The facts are more unsettling than any comment or tweet that has been made in the wake of the disaster in Salta. Over the past 12 months, the Boks have suffered historic losses to Argentina and Ireland at home, a defeat to Japan at the 2015 World Cup, and most recently a first-ever loss to the Pumas in Argentina.
The Boks have already lost two out of five in 2016. Many people are starting to wonder how a South African team that loses to a second-string Ireland side at home and then to a plucky but limited Pumas side in Salta can be expected to beat the Wallabies and All Blacks in Australasia.
The Boks’ recent record in that part of the world inspires more concern than hope of success. South Africa have won one game in Australia over the past seven years. They’ve won just three Tests in New Zealand over the past 20.
In the coming months, the Boks could lose to Australia in Brisbane and then to New Zealand in Christchurch. They could lose to New Zealand in Durban and then to England and Wales on their subsequent tour to the northern hemisphere.
Indeed, at this stage, the Boks appear likely to finish their first year under Allister Coetzee with a win record of 50% or less. And even then, that final figure will be worthy of an asterisk, with the Boks recording historic losses to Ireland and Argentina in the same year, as well as a defeat to England for the first time since 2006.
These are dark times for South African rugby. And yet it’s frightening to think that the team has not hit rock bottom just yet. This statement is based on the results of the Boks in recent times, and on those of their future opponents.
The Boks have been found wanting in just about every department over the past five matches. The most recent performance in Salta witnessed yet another poor showing at the breakdown. They are still battling with their decision-making and execution, and that is an indictment on the players as much as the coaches.
This group has a long way to go before it can be spoken about as possible contenders for the Rugby Championship title, the World Cup or even World Rugby's No 1 ranking.
At this stage, the Boks are battling to gel on attack. That’s not their biggest problem, though. At this stage, they can’t even win ugly. They can’t even get the basics right in general play, and the goal-kicking stats show why they are failing to apply scoreboard pressure and why they are, in some cases, failing to close out tight contests.
Overall, the Boks have been successful with 26 of their 39 attempts at goal in 2016. Collectively, the goal-kickers have an average success rate of 67% over the five Tests, which needless to say is not good enough for a team that aspires to silverware.
Those 13 missed kicks have cost the Boks 37 points across the five matches. And as SA Rugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats confirm, 23 points have gone begging due to wayward goal-kicks in the first two matches of the Rugby Championship. The Boks aren’t getting better in this department. They’re getting worse.
First-choice goal-kicker Elton Jantjies has been erratic for both the Lions and Boks in 2016. Morné Steyn missed two kicks when he came off the bench in Salta. The likes of Johan Goosen and Ruan Combrinck have been spared harsh judgments as they are usually tasked with taking long-range shots.
The fact of the matter is that South Africa lack a reliable goal-kicker at present. It’s a big problem for a Bok side that is battling for momentum in other areas of their game.
If the Boks had a sharp-shooter in tow, they would have the means to build scoreboard pressure during matches. They would have the means to close out tight contests and to possibly build some momentum via a string of positive results.
The short-term solution is anything but obvious. Handré Pollard and Pat Lambie are unavailable at present. The former has already been ruled out for the entire 2016 season, while the latter is rumoured to be struggling with a concussion-related injury and may not return to Test action this year.
The Boks may have to make do with what they have in terms of flyhalves and goal-kickers. It’s not an encouraging thought when you reflect on the Boks' goal-kicking success rate of 58% in the Rugby Championship.
At this rate, the Boks will battle to clinch close yet valuable wins in the months to come.
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images