November 2018 Test Match Review

Wales 20 vs South Africa 11

Saturday, November 24

Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

In my less-than-humble opinion, Pieter-Steph du Toit has been South Africa’s outstanding rugby player of 2018. Week after week his playing stats have been quite stellar, while his impact on a game has been visible to all that watch their TV screens or have had the good fortune to attend a Test match. He has been immense throughout the year. Often the man at the very spear-tip of the Springbok defence or attack; the man who makes more tackles than anyone else; the man who carries the ball more often than anyone else; the man who will run through a brick wall for his team and his country.

When Pieter-Steph du Toit has a mediocre game, by his own lofty standards, then one must suspect that there is something amiss with the man, or perhaps his team.

Against Wales Pieter-Steph du Toit worked his heart out. Again.

But this time he seemed to be just a little less than usual.

He conceded 2 penalties. In the previous 3 November Tests he conceded just one. He conceded 4 turnovers against Wales, against none in the previous 3 Tests of the November end-of-year tour.

He made 3 handling errors against Wales, having made just 1 in all three the previous Tests combined.

He passed the ball just once. In previous Tests he averaged 6 passes per game.

He made his usual contribution with the ball in hand, carrying the ball 11 times, for 86 meters, or 7,8 meters per carry. In the previous 3 Tests he averaged 9 carries per game, for an average of 9 meters per carry. So just a little less than usual……

He also made 14 tackles, missing one.

Very good stats for your average mortal, but not quite what we have come to expect from Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Why?

I will tell you why.

It is that thing they call fatigue.

As I watched the Springbok team take on Wales it was soon evident that this was a team that was running on empty.

Not that they lacked motivation. But motivation is not enough when the reflexes are just a micro-second off, when the instincts are just a little blunted, and the thinking is not quite crystal clear.

Motivation is not enough when the body is aching and the muscles are reluctant. The effort might seem supreme, but the execution is no longer perfect.

Yes, there were a couple of players who stepped up to the mark, and even went beyond. Cheslin Kolbe for one, Eben Etzebeth was another, Duane Vermeulen too. By highlighting these players that stood out from the crowd, we highlight the very issue I am talking about. These three have not had a full year of rugby behind them. These three are so much fresher and mentally fitter than their compatriots.

Kolbe has just come back into rugby after the northern offseason, with just 22 games for Toulouse since he left the Stormers at the end of the 2017 Super Rugby season, he is not mentally jaded nor physically fatigued. Kolbe is as fresh as can be. And it showed on the field of play.

Eben Etzebeth has been sitting on the sidelines watching his Stormers outfit throughout the Super Rugby season. A shoulder injury ruled him out, and gave him a chance to recover from all the bumps and bruises his body accumulated in the previous couple of years of rugby.  He made his return to rugby during the Rugby Championships tournament and certainly produced the goods. He is mentally and physically fresh.

Duane Vermeulen left Toulon at the end of the 2017/2018 season. He signed for the Kubota Spears in Japan, but has not played a single game for them yet! He has stayed fit by attending club practices and working with their team, as well as working with the Springbok team, but he has actually had time out to recover from the battering his body has taken in the 3 years he spent with Toulon, after seven years with the Stormers. A rest after ten years of rugby. He too is fresh and fit for rugby.

A couple of others might also be considered to be fully match fit and ready for rugby, if not as fresh as the three aforementioned. The likes of Willie le Roux, Vincent Koch, and Francois Louw, who have all just started their 2018/9 season playing in the Premiership in England. Their 2018 workload has also been less intense and draining.

But the rest of the Springbok squad certainly do not look fresh and fit for rugby. Some looked as if they were sleep-walking against Wales. Physically, they might have been operating at pace, but mentally they looked jaded and tired.

Which would begin to explain some of the helter-skelter rugby moments, the inaccuracy, and the errors made throughout the game.

The weird defensive mistakes by a team that has been rock solid on defence throughout the Rugby Championships and held England try-less just three weeks ago. The defensive errors were those of a young, inexperienced wing that seemed to forget everything that he had learned in his one year of rugby as he abandoned his wing channel time and again; and a lapse by Malcolm Marx who bought  dummy that he would usually have ignored like the proverbial stop street. The defensive errors were those of a team that is just not as sharp as one would want them to be.

Mental fatigue?

(I am amused by the comments of some who question whether the Springbok backs understand their defensive roles. South Africa made 124 tackles and missed 14, that is a 90% tackle success rate, identical to the Welsh tackle success rate. During the entire November tour, the Springbok tackle success rate was 91%, which is as good as it gets in international rugby. Perhaps there are still aspects that need polish, but the defensive system is working very well.)

Let us not detract from a well thought out and well-executed Welsh game plan. They are a team that has grown in stature and depth during the last 18 months, with a 9-match winning streak to their credit. They are ranked third in the world for a very good reason!

Wales knew where the Springbok strengths lay, and they very deliberately and calmly played away from those strengths. They eschewed kicks for touch and territorial gain in order to avoid having to deal with the Springbok lineouts and the inevitable mauls and drives which are the bread and butter of the big men from the southern tip of Africa.

They avoided the massive midfield collisions, and the concomitant physical requirements of direct tackles, by using the 2015 Japanese RWC technique of cutting the Springbok ball carriers legs from underneath them with very low tackling. (Sometimes bordering on the illegal, but a clever team plays to the edge of the envelope that a referee allows, and Luke Pearce was not looking for the “grass cutters” on Saturday. That is not poor rugby, that is just very clever rugby.)

When in possession, Wales frequently ducked the physical confrontations by cleverly moving the ball away from the contact point, very much a carbon copy of the All Black style of play. They kicked when they had to, but always into space, avoiding the touch finders as much as possible.

Wales knew that South Africa relied on two primary ball-poachers at the breakdown, Malcolm Marx and Duane Vermeulen, and they worked hard to clear these two from the breakdown with fierce focus, sometimes perhaps coming in from the side of the rucks and maul, but you play to the whistle…

When Wales decided to shut the game down, in much the same way as South Africa had shut down the game against Scotland the week before, they simply exchanged flyhalves, with Dan Biggar coming on to control the game and launch his aerial bombs time and again, pinning the Springboks back and forcing them to run from deep.

This was intelligent rugby and an accomplished performance by a very well coached team. Wales were fresher, quicker, cleverer, and simply outthought and outsmarted South Africa.

Well done Wales.

A number of Welshmen deserve mention.

I thought Ellis Jenkins was immense. A late replacement for Dan Lydiate, Jenkins produced a super game with a huge work-rate and great competition for the ball on the ground. He deserves to be starting Tests as a first choice, not a sub for someone else. We hope that the late injury that he picked up towards the end of the Test will not be serious.

Justin Tipuric was equally good as he was a constant threat with the ball in hand and when defending. His blue scrumcap was visible throughout the game.

I thought Gareth Anscombe was very good as the Welsh playmaker in the first 60 minutes. His tactical kicking was perhaps a little off-target once or twice, but it was evident that he was playing to instruction and avoiding touch-finders. However, it was his general play that really impressed as he made Liam William’s try and gave the Springbok defence much to think about.

On the Springbok side, Cheslin Kolbe was a handful each and every time he got the ball. His stepping was marvellous to watch. He might be small, but that does not detract from his physical commitment in the tackle, and his hunger for work was good to see.

Duane Vermeulen stepped up into the leadership role as Siya Kolisi was visibly tired and slowing. Vermeulen was enormous in the physical stuff, and provided leadership when it was critically needed. Unfortunately he was overruled by the captain when a kick for goal was a sure three points, late in the first half.

Siya Kolisi has been criticised for the decision to take the scrum rather than going for posts, but one has to mention that when Kieran Read chose the scrum option against England three weeks ago, the television commentators were equally incredulous, suggesting that he had made a huge mistake and should have taken the 3 points on offer. When Damian McKenzie scored off that scrum play, everyone reversed their opinion and Kieran Read was suddenly brave and astute.

Things did not work as Kolisi planned, and he is thus judged as having made the wrong decision. If the gamble had paid off, he would today be hailed as being brave and astute.

It is a very thin line……..

After a good starting debut against Scotland, Embrose Papier continued with his development with a fairly good, crisp service to his flyhalves and to forward receivers. Some good work around the fringes was added to last week’s more conservative start. Unfortunately his box-kicking was largely inaccurate, often overcooked, which did not allow his chasers the opportunity to contest the ball in the air. The Welsh defenders also ran some deliberately obstructive lines on the chasers, cutting across their line of running without actually going towards the ball. It was deliberate and often right on the fine line that bordered on illegal obstruction.

The Referee

Referee Luke Pearce had some very good moments. His handling of the tempers and flare-ups was exemplary, and much of his decision making was calm and considered. Whilst he was generally even-handed he was certainly at fault for not policing the off-side line with much focus, especially at the breakdowns, where both teams stole meters at a time. Wales, in particular, used this to their advantage as their wider defenders were often well over the line, but were somehow not spotted by either Pearce or his assistants.

Pearce did make two glaring errors in the final moments of the game, errors that did not cost South Africa the game – they had already blown their chances without his intervention – but they were errors that allowed Wales to stretch their lead out to 9 points.

The first was in the 68th minute when Welsh replacement Tomos Williams dove onto Aphiwe Dyantyi on the ground, deep in the Springbok 22m area. This was clearly a penalisable offence and should have been ruled as such. Luke Pearce ignored the offence and went on to penalise the Springboks for not releasing the ball on the ground. Dan Biggar stretched the lead by 3 points.

His next error was shortly afterwards, in the 71st minute, when the Springboks were  penalised for going offside at a ruck immediately under their posts, when Welsh scrumhalf Davies had clearly picked the ball up at the base and had it in his hands. It was certainly not offside. Another 3 pointer for Dan Biggar.

They were poor calls by an international referee.

In Summary:

The Springboks looked completely flat and out of sorts, making silly, basic errors, while neglecting to protect the ball in possession, coupled with moments of ill-discipline. All the signs of a team that has reached the end of a very long and arduous year.

Wales looked like a team that is hitting its straps. Well drilled, well coached, and well disciplined, with excellent tactical nous and the focus to do exactly what was required of them.

The entire November tour of the north seems increasingly weighted against the men from the southern hemisphere as the ever-increasing demands of Super Rugby, mid-year Tests, the Rugby Championships, and then local and domestic competitions drains the bodies and minds of the players.

Whether it is the world champions, New Zealand, or South Africa, Australia, and Argentina, all four the big guns from the south struggled with the added burden of Tests against the north.

The likes of Ireland, England and Wales, France too if and when things work for them, will take plenty of confidence into a World Cup year in the clear belief that the gap between the south and north has significantly diminished.

Only time will tell whether this is true.

Individual Player Assessment

SOUTH AFRICA

No. 15 Willie le Roux 5/10
Some delightful moments, some good brave takes under the high ball, exquisite pass to Jesse Kriel for his try, but some overcooked passes too. One to PS du Toit that had opportunity written all over it if it had gone to hand. Not as incisive with the ball in hand as one would have liked.

No. 23 Cheslin Kolbe 7/10
Caused some serious problems, panic even, for the Welsh defence with his stepping quickness with the ball in hand. Great steal over the ball. Took a superb high-ball with the whole of Wales bearing down on him. Some tigerish tackles.  Hungry for work, constructive, committed and elusive.

No. 13 Jesse Kriel 5/10
Very nearly had two tries to his name, denied the second by a hair’s breadth. Exposed on defence a couple of times as he rushed the line without staying with his inside centre. Liam Williams simply slipped through his hands for Wales’s second try. Hands let him down once or twice.

No. 12 Damian de Allende: 4/10

If ever a player looked out of sorts it was De Allende. He looked fatigued, ill almost, as he simply went through the motions without making any real impact on the game. One good carry.

No. 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi 4/10
Forgot everything he has learned about defensive alignment and communication as he simply rushed in off his line time and again. Showed some footwork with the ball in hand, but was not as predatory as we have seen before. Wrongly penalised for not releasing the ball after Tomos Williams dived all over him.

No. 10 Handré Pollard 5/10
An iffy sort of game for the 10. Made some excellent tackles, had a couple of good touches, attacked the line, especially later when playing at 12. Did not have the same influence as he had against Scotland, France, or England. Seemed a trifle slow to make decisions. One horrible pass to Frans Malherbe. Missed two goalable kicks.

Embrose Papier: 5/10

His progress continues. Mixed up his game quite nicely, with more sniping around the edges. A crucial handling error robbed him of his debut try.

Most of his passes were crisp and accurate, but there were a couple of loose ones. His box kicking was overcooked and inaccurate.

No. 8 Duane Vermeulen 6/10
Took on the leadership role when his captain was visibly flagging. A big physical presence all game, with a couple of great turnovers. Some powerful carries, and some solid tackling.  One silly penalty for entering a ruck recklessly.

No. 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 7/10
Emptied the tank as he again gave his best. Huge work rate, but lacked the accuracy and focus we have come to expect.  Did some sterling work when playing out wide and very nearly scored a great try.  Conceded two penalties, and four turnovers, while his hands let him down a couple of times. Just not the Pieter-Steph we have come to know.

No. 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi 4/10

The fatigue of the long season and the burden of captaincy was evident in his face. Stark, sometimes staring, lacking his usual animation, he was subdued in all aspects of his play.  Six carries, but without penetration, but somehow missed three tackles. Some good leg-drive and  his trademark counter-rucking. Visibly tired when he went off.

No. 5 Franco Mostert 6/10
A very physical game as he seemed to get into a personal tussle with Alun Wyn Jones. Made 14 tackles and nine carries. Faded a little after break.

No. 4 Rudolf Snyman No rating
Not enough time to be rated. Left the field after 11 minutes.

No. 3 Frans Malherbe 5/10
Solid in scrums, made four tackles before leaving the field after 46 minutes looking tired and out of sorts..
No. 2 Malcolm Marx 5/10
He will be having nightmares about that horrendous one-on-one tackle with Ellis Jenkins that ended with Wales’ first try. Good work-rate at the breakdown, with 3 very good turnovers. He made six tackles, some of which bordered on monstrous!

No. 1 Steven Kitshoff 6/10
Gave Tomas Francis a workout at the scrums, but not quite as powerful in the carry and clean-outs. Seven good tackles without missing 1.

Replacements:

No. 16 Bongi Mbonambi 6/10 (on for Marx, 53rd minute)
Always brings great enthusiasm onto the field, and added some extra physicality to the rucks and mauls. A good day at the office.

No. 17 Thomas du Toit 7/10 (on for Kitshoff, 52nd minute)
His best 30 minutes in a Springbok jersey. Took over after Kitshoff had done the softening-up job and promptly forced his presence onto his opponent in the very first scrum.  Made three turnovers.
No. 18 Vincent Koch 6.10 (on for Malherbe, 46th minute)
Did exactly what he was supposed to do, and dominated the scrum. Made some good carries and a couple of solid hits.

No. 19 Eben Etzebeth 7/10  (On for Snyman, 11th minute)
One of the hardest workers in the Springbok scrum, he made his presence felt from the moment he came on. 9 carries and 8 big tackles. Brought a bit of mongrel to the confrontations, with smiling aggression when the off-the-ball stuff blew up a bit.

No. 20 Francois Louw 5/10 (on for Vermeulen, 64th minute)
Made no real difference with just two carries and a couple of tackles.

No. 21 Ivan van Zyl 4/10 (on for Papier, 50th minute)
Not the answer at 9. Slower than Papier, inaccurate, and indecisive. Ineffective kicking.

No. 22 Elton Jantjies 5/10 (on for De Allende, 45th minute)
Enjoys playing without having the decision-making responsibility. Was calm and focussed, and did what he was supposed to do. Not as effective in the carry as one wanted.

No. 26 Damian Willemse (on for Dyantyi, 76th minute)
Note enough time to be rated

WALES

No. 15. Liam Williams 6/10

Safe, all day. Great run for his try. Did not run from deep much, well watched by the South Africans.

No. 14 George North 5/10

Good on the kick-chase, not terribly penetrative with the ball in hand, despite being given some room to move.

No. 13 Jonathan Davies 5/10

One very good break. Missed a couple of tackles and his kicking was iffy.

No. 12 Hadleigh Parkes 6/10

His tackling was better than expected and managed to shut down the South African midfielders comfortably. Carried well.

No. 11 Josh Adams 5/10

A quiet afternoon, with little to do. Carried well on occasion, but not much to report. Left for dead by Kolbe once. .

No. 10 Gareth Anscombe 7/10

His kicking out of hand  was a bit iffy, but his general play and control was very good. Made Liam Williams’ try. Kept the Springbok defence awake.

No. 9 Gareth Davies 6/10

A quiet game, without putting enough pressure on the rookie Papier. Four tackles, and a steady service to his receivers. His kicking was fairly accurate.

No. 8 Ross Moriarty. No Rating

Not enough time for a rating.

No. 7 Justin Tipuric. 7/10

Massive shift on defence, with some good carrying too. Worked hard at the breakdowns.

No. 6 Ellis Jenkins 8/10

My Man of the Match. Great work at the breakdown, great tackling, and that dummy that he sold to Malcom Marx will be remembered when he is old and retired from the game. Moved to 8 after Moriarty went off. Hope that injury is not serious!

No. 5 Alun Wyn Jones 7/10

Gets marked up for calm leadership and good referee management. Got a bit carried away in the confrontations. A bit of a personal tussle with Franco Mostert. Safe in lineouts.

No. 4 Adam Beard. 5/10

A bit anonymous, but made his tackles and piled into the collisions.

No. 3 Tomas Francis 5/10

Struggled in the scrums, but managed to score his first try for Wales and the first by a Welsh prop against South Africa, New Zealand or Australia.

No. 2 Ken Owens 6/10

Some good carrying and throwing into the lineout, Struggled with the scrum pressure, and his hands were a problem.

No. 1 Nicky Smith 4/10

Struggled in the scrums, but did make six tackles during his 50 minutes.

Stand-Out Sub:

20 Aaron Wainwright. 6/10

A strong showing with an extended run off the bench. Made his tackles, carried hard, and worked extra hard cleaning out around the fringes.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries: Francis, L Williams
Cons: Anscombe 2
Pens: Biggar 2

For South Africa:
Try: Kriel
Pens: Pollard, Jantjies

The Teams:

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse