The Springboks’ woes are set to continue for the remainder of the year due to the severity of their shortcomings, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Boks’ stuttering form this season stems not from a singular weakness but rather an array of frailties in various facets. There is, therefore, no simple solution, hence the frustratingly slow rate at which the new-look Boks are progressing.
Ironically, it took the first loss in the Heyneke Meyer era at the weekend to illustrate that improvement is well being made, albeit it at a snail’s pace. The performance against the Wallabies was still a far cry from what is expected of a Springbok side, but it was a vast improvement on the shocking draw against Argentina.
Their tactical kicking, a key feature in their territory-driven game plan, was much-improved, as was their defensive effort. Although they leaked two tries, they increased their tackling accuracy from 72 percent in Mendoza to 88 percent in Perth.
It was the Wallabies’ ability to maintain possession, helped in no small part by Meyer’s reluctancy to play a specialist fetcher, that sucked in defenders and lead to the two five-pointers rather than any glaring glitch in their defensive structures.
There’s no doubt that additional changes to the side need to be made. A lack of an out-and-out opensider would be a recipe for disaster against the mighty All Blacks on Saturday, while Morne Steyn’s shaken confidence and suspect defence remains an on-going issue.
It’s important to understand, though, that whilst thrusting the likes of Francois Louw or Heinrich Brussow, who finds himself outside of the squad at present, or play-making prodigies Johan Goosen and Pat Lambie into the starting line-up would speed up the rebuilding process, it would not assure immediate success. Even with these talented prospects, the Boks would still struggle against their Antipodean rivals.
No amount of tinkering or time on the training field during the week will change the fact that the Boks are lambs to the slaughter what Saturday’s showdown in Dunedin is concerned. There simply is no quick fix. Experience is hard earned, and it’s only through experience that the Boks will grow as a unit.
It is imperative, however, that Meyer identifies the players he deems best suited to take South African rugby into the future and afford them a prolonged run in the starting XV in order to build some sort of foundation and continuity heading into 2013 and beyond.
Only the most die-hard of Springbok supporters would put money on a Bok victory this weekend. It would be a monumental upset. A clever tactical approach from the Boks, however, could make for a more competitive contest than many expect.
Although they won’t be aided by the whirlpool Wellington wind, the Boks will do well to follow - and improve - the Pumas’ blueprint, which doesn’t differ too much from the Boks’ current conservative game plan. Attitude, passion and aggressive yet disciplined defence are what served the Pumas well against the All Blacks. The inexperienced Bok pack, in particular, will need to take the fight to their hosts.
Targeting the talented but inexperienced Aaron Cruden ought to be the focal point of the Boks’ strategy this weekend. Cruden struggled to stamp his authority on the match in Wellington and Aaron Smith also suffered from the ripple effect caused by Dan Carter’s injury-enforced absence.
It was clear that Smith struggled without the composed Carter, who takes a lot of pressure off the young number nine. Expect the experienced Piri Weepu to start at scrumhalf and shoulder much of the responsibility from the base on Saturday to ease the pressure off Cruden.
If Ruan Pienaar, who should be given another run as starting scrumhalf, and the Bok back rowers can unsettle the All Black halfback pairing, they could make matters difficult for the world champions. If they are unable to do so and the potent All Black backline gets clean ball, it could be a blow out.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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