Silly Season Tour
Post Mortem Time
Boy, did I get some of my calls wrong this weekend!!! At least, I got some of the results correct, but almost none of the games panned out the way I had predicted they would.
I said England would cruise past Argentina by at least 25 points. Yep, they won, by 21 – 8, but it was no cruise. It was a wrestling match of dull rugby, error ridden, with plenty of mistakes, lots of tackling, and not much more.
My prediction for the Wallabies versus Wales suggested that the Aussies would win by at least 12. They won, by just 29 to 21, although they did manage to score four tries to Wales’ two. It was another scrambling sort of game that did not rise to any great heights.
As far as France vs New Zealand was concerned, I suggested that the All Blacks would overpower their opponents by at least 25 points, especially as this is a very inexperienced French outfit and the All Blacks were smarting after their loss to the Wallabies. Well 38 – 18 is a good stretch, but it was all helped by a try in the dying minutes to make the All Black win look big. The French score was flattered by a very strange penalty try decision by the referee. The truth was that the All Blacks had a great first half, a truly dire second half, and the French could, and should have gone much closer.
I also did say the Scots would beat Samoa, but I never expected it to be so close. I suggested an 18-point spread, nowhere as close as the 44 – 38 final score tells us it was. I have not watched the whole game in depth yet, but my impression when scooting through my recorded game, was that the Scots looked ominous, but let the Samoas back into the game time and again.
Italy vs Fiji was the only game that I got close to being 100% correct. The 19 – 10 and a nine-point spread was close to my predicted six point spread, and I did predict the type of rugby we would see.
As for Canada vs Georgia, I went with Canada based purely on sentiment, and got it completely wrong. I said Canada by 6, and it was Georgia by 32 points, 54 to 22. Sorry guys, I tried……
And then there is the Elephant in The Room. I hope nobody placed any bets on my prediction that South Africa would beat the Irish? I got that one as badly wrong as it is possible to get wrong.
(Oh Well……… my small R10 deposit in the local gentlemen’s pool goes to a worthy winner. He is Irish, he played scrumhalf for them, and for the British Lions in ’66 and ’68, so I hope Roger will spend his winnings wisely!)
I will deal with each game briefly, and spend some time focussing on the Evisceration of the Springbok in the Emerald Isles!
Test Match Reviews:
England vs Argentina
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Dan Jones (Wales)
Television match official: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Assessor: Colin Hawke (New Zealand)
This was a scrappy game, full of errors, mistimed passes, strange running lines, mishit kicks, missed tackles, handling problems and ring rust. England should have put a poor Argentinean team away easily and comfortably, and they did not. They will need to improve by a country mile if they are going to beat Australia next weekend!
The hosts battled past Argentina 21-8 at Twickenham, with tries by Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni taking them home, together with George Ford’s goal kicking.
Nicolas Sanchez eventually crossed for Argentina’s sole try late in the game.
It was a horrible first half of rugby. The highlight being the tackling of one Englishman, Sam Underhill. His defensive effort was a masterclass for all aspiring international flankers. He goes in low, he goes in hard, he drives with his legs, his head is in the correct position, and he does not slip a tackle.
Missed kicks from both teams were the highlights of the game in those first 40 minutes. Ford missed two, Hernandez missed two. The only other “highlight” was the pedantry of referee Marius van der Westhuizen as he handed Joaquin Tucelet a yellow card after Mike Brown jumped into him. Anybody watching the game would have seen Tucelet chasing the kick, his eyes on the ball, jumping, his arms cupped to take the catch, when Brown jumped higher, and over him for the ball, and fell badly.
Yes, the rules say you have to be aware of the other man in the air and have a “duty of care” towards him– yet it could so easily have been Brown that injured Tucelet as the latter was going for the ball! Would a card then have gone the other way? Surely, surely he had a “duty of care” too?
This was just one of those collisions that happen in a contact sport. Both men were going for the ball, both were determined to get the ball. One jumped higher than the other, simple momentum and mechanics did the rest. It is unfortunate that Brown got hurt, but we are playing rugby here, not tiddly-winks, as Ma’a Nonu once said.
England then had an unjustified numerical advantage, and they scored a try through Nathan Hughes, which should probably not have been.
The second half started equally poorly, both sides making unnecessary mistakes, with a possible scoring opportunity for England going begging when Dylan Hartley messed up at the base of a lineout maul.
Midway through the half the England replacement Semesa Rokoduguni went over on the right wing for a converted try. The game was effectively over at 21-3.
But it was the Pumas that turned on the late pressure until replacement flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez crossed in the 78th minute. It was not enough to win the game for the Argies, but it would have given the Wallabies some confidence for next week.
Tries: Hughes, Rokoduguni
Pens: Ford 3
Yellow Card: Tuculet
Wales vs Australia
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Ian Tempest (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)
Assessor: Nigel Yates (England)
The Wallabies outscored Wales by four tries to two, and secured a 29-21 victory at the Principality Stadium,.
Four Tries from Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Coleman, Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale were answered by two from Steff Evans and Hallam Amos.
One of the Aussie tries was somewhat against the run of play, when Kurtley Beale grabbed a spilled ball and raced the distance to score. It took some of the wind out of the Welsh Dragon’s wings.
There is not much more to say about this game. It was no great spectacle, and produced few sublime moments. Hooper’s try was perhaps one such moment as he out-paced and fended off Davies on his way to scoring.
But he was also sent to the sin bin for yet another offence at the breakdown, after repeated infringements and a warning from the ref..
Wales used their numerical advantage for Amos to chase and gather Davies’ kick and then score, despite the attentions of Koroibete.
Not a game for your DVD collection of classic rugby encounters.
Tries: Evans, Amos
Pens: Halfpenny 3
Tries: Polota-Nau, Coleman, Hooper, Beale
Cons: Foley 3
Yellow Card: Hooper
France vs New Zealand
Stade de France, Paris, France
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Tom Foley (England)
Television match official: Rowan Kitt (England)
Assessor: John Sheehan (Ireland)
The end-of-year fatigue was evident as the All Blacks gained a 38-18 victory over at Stade de France on Saturday. Tries from Dane Coles, Ryan Crotty, Sam Cane and two from Waisake Naholo were too much for a game France who scored through Teddy Thomas and a somewhat strange penalty try.
It was a scrappy affair with plenty of knock-ons and a lot of time was consumed with scrum resets where Angus Gardiner was rather pedantic about the “gap on the bind” – constantly reminding everyone that he did not want to be the dominant actor in the scrum saga, but “We agreed before the game that we would leave the gap…” Eventually he gave Rabah Slimani a yellow-card for repeatedly infringing in this regard.
This referee imposed restriction on binding and setting a scrum makes it very difficult for a scrum to stay upright and for players not to “pre-engage” and earn yet another of those horrid scrum penalties. It is time for World Rugby to intervene!
The All Blacks produced some very good rugby in the first 40-minute period, and then seemed to run out of gas.
The penalty try given for Sonny-Bill Williams deliberately knocking a ball into the dead-ball area illustrates two things.
One, he is not 100% a rugby union player – he is allowed to do that in league rugby where he planted his roots!
Two, the referee did not even consider the fact that he could and would have caught the ball if he wanted to. He was not going to miss it, he was perfectly in line, and in control, yet chose to knock it “dead” – and a penalty try should only be awarded if a certain try was prevented by the action of the player who infringes the rules.
It was a stupid moment. Stupid by SBW, and equally stupid by Angus Gardiner. The correct decision would have been a penalty and, possibly, a debatable yellow card for a professional foul, but certainly not a penalty try.
Not much more to say about a game that got a bit feisty from time to time, with numerous off-the-ball incidents escaping the eye of the officials.
Try: Thomas, Penalty Try
Pens: Belleau 2
Yellow Card: Slimani
For New Zealand:
Tries: Coles, Naholo 2, Crotty, Cane
Cons: Barrett 4
Yellow Card: Williams
Scotland vs Samoa
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), George Clancy (Ireland)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Assessor: Chris White (England)
Scotland scored six tries and Samoa five in a high scoring but scrappy game of rugby. Every time Scotland looked as if they had put distance between themselves and the Samoans on the scoreboard, the Samoans bounced back with a score of their own.
I had expected Scotland to win this one quite comfortably, but it seemed as if they also thought so, and forgot to bring their “A” game.
Tries from Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Pete Horne and a Stuart McInally brace proved too much for Samoa who scored through Josh Tyrell, Piula Faasalele, Tim Nanai-Williams, Kieran Fonotia and Ofisa Treviranus.
Tim Nanai-Williams is a hugely talented and versatile player, and his first game as flyhalf for his homeland was a revelation. A great performance in a losing cause.
The Scots used the grubber kick as their primary weapon, and this might not be a great idea against either Australia or New Zealand! (They can deploy the kick against South Africa any time they wish, the Springbok backs will have no idea what to do with a rolling ball.)
It was an entertaining game of rugby, in the way that club rugby games can be entertaining with the game see-sawing up and down the field. It was not really of international quality, but it was entertaining.
But it was mostly just poor rugby.
Tries: Hogg, H Jones, McInally 2, Dunbar, Horne
Cons: Russell 3, Horne
Pens: Russell 2
Tries: Tyrell, Fa’asalele, Nanai-Williams, Fonotia, Treviranus
Cons: Nanai-Williams 5
Italy vs Fiji
Stadio Angelo Massimino, Catania, Italy
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Pierre Brousset (France)
Television match official: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assessor: Andy Clift (Scotland)
Italy finally banked their first win of 2017, getting some revenge over Fiji for that last gasp win earlier in the year. The game started with both teams throwing the ball around a lot, but with no real purpose. The second half was an arm-wrestle from the word go, and the 19-10 score is about right.
I have not watched the game in any depth yet, so my comments are based on a quick run through of my recording. I might watch it later once I have stopped watching some paint dry.
Both sides scored a try apiece although Fiji seemed to me to be conceding far too many penalties in the second half. The Fijians did look as if they had scored through Tuisova, but he clearly lost control of the ball when the replay was shown in slow motion.
Italy also had a possible try disallowed when Canna stripped the ball in an offside position.
Fiji’s fitness started to wane and they were struggling to stay with the game as time ticked over. They were not helped by a yellow card for Volavola in the last quarter of the game, which allowed Italy to stretch the lead by a further three points.
Not much else to report.
Pens: Canna 3, McKinley
Yellow Card: Volavola
Georgia vs Canada
I did not watch this game, so I can only report the score.
Georgia won by 54-22 over Canada in Tbilisi on Saturday.
For Georgia –
Tries: Soso Matiashili (2), Giorgi Nemsadze, Levan Chilachava, Merad Sharikadze, Karlen Asieshvili.
Conversions: Matiashvili (6).
Penalties: Matiashvili (4).
For Canada –
Tries: Taylor Paris, DTH van der Merwe, Brock Staller.
Conversions: Staller (2).
Penalty: Patrick Parfrey.
Ireland vs South Africa
Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Ian Davies (Wales)
Television match official: David Grashoff (England)
Assessor: Andrew Cole (Australia)
Now this was the game where I got everything wrong.
I have been watching the development of this Springbok outfit very closely in 2017. Whilst they do have some very serious weaknesses, the strength of the team was building based on a team ethic, guts, constantly improving focus, improving accuracy, and a game plan that was slowly emerging. They have key players in important positions, some world class, others very good, but there are a number of very inexperienced men in the side, and some who should not be there at all.
There have been some strange selections, but we cannot blame a player if he is selected out of position, or into a team where he surely does not belong. These are issues outside of the control of the individual players and wholly the responsibility of the coach and his aides. (Perhaps some politicians are involved too?)
As a team throughout 2017, they have improved immeasurably over the rabble that took to the fields in 2016. They have struggled, at times, to finish promising movements and scoring opportunities; they have not always taken the correct options; and some of their tactical play has been atrocious, particularly their kicking out of hand. At times the defence has creaked badly, at other it has been as solid as a rock.
Accepting that this is a team under construction, a work in progress, we could not expect miracles, especially after 2016. One thing we can say is that they have played with focus and intent all year. The loss to New Zealand in Albany was expected, the magnitude of that loss was totally unexpected. The Springboks showed that they can learn from a loss of that nature, and grow.
Their fightback at Newlands produced one of the finest rugby games of the modern era.
When they arrived in Dublin I was quietly confident that they had taken a huge step forward in that game against New Zealand. They had found their mongrel, they had found their confidence. They had found their pride. I expected them to be much better prepared and focused this time.
None of which was visible on the field of play on Saturday.
Once again, much as against Japan in 2015, the Springboks were outthought, outsmarted, and outplayed in Dublin by an Irish side that were well prepared for every eventuality. Add another factor – the Irish outmuscled the Springboks.
The Irish had picked up the weakness of the South Africans in the wide channels and under the high ball. They took note of the fact that the back three are not really of international quality and had been the weakness in every game so far in 2017. They planned for it, and then they went for that wound. And they picked at that scab until it bled.
Hemorrhaged is perhaps better than “bled.”
The Irish picked up on the fact that Elton Jantjies cannot play under pressure. He drops deeper and deeper into the pocket with each new phase of a game, and starts to give his runners slow, flat ball, while his tactical kicking becomes a nonsense of hurried tackle avoidance rather than pinpoint accuracy. They picked at that scab until it bled.
They picked up that the Bok midfielders, especially Jesse Kriel, had a penchant for crabbing with the ball in hand, and then running into dead-end streets. And they allowed him to do just that, shadowing him into captivity like a game capture net closing, and cutting him off from his support runners. Not that he has much intention of passing anyway.
The Irish identified the glaring weaknesses in the South African backline, and exploited them willfully, brilliantly some might say.
They knew that the conditions suited their forwards and that they could slow the Boks down to their own pace, especially as the loose trio included a retreaded flank at 8 and a somewhat ponderous lock on the flank.
The Irish had also noted that the South African game plan has essentially been one based on taking the ball wide as much as possible, and that there is no real Plan B. Against the All Blacks the Springboks started to play some more direct rugby, and it very nearly bore fruit, but for the rest of the year they have tried the expansive open game, with no fallback options at all. And those that know Ireland also know that the rugby fields of that beautiful country are likely to be slow and heavy, not really ideal for the open game plan…
Simply: They outthought the Springboks! And then they outsmarted them, and outplayed them!
And then there are the selection issues.
I am not sure that Allister Coetzee is not overdoing his continuity mantra.
The back three of the 2017 Springboks have been exposed as the single biggest weakness in the side. The initial trio of Rhule, Coetzee and Skosan were exposed from the first Test back in June. It took a massive thumping by the All Blacks for Coetzee to see the light and dump Rhule. He replaced him with the ever-willing, but equally lightweight, Dillyn Leyds.
All three the current players are short of stature, slight of build, and short of the bruising muscle needed at the top level of wing play. Pop any two of these youngsters on a counterweight scale and let an Ardie Savea, a Naholo, or a Reiko Ioane sit on the other side, and I would suggest that the single All Black would tip the scale in his favour.
This issue has been identified by everyone who comments on the game of rugby.
Now add in the fact that the chosen trio are all well short of some of the basics of the game. All three run the weirdest of defensive lines, regularly getting sucked in off their wing or out of position at the back, and exposing the Springbok wider channels. The tackle technique of the trio is also questionable. A small man like Cheslin Kolbe, now playing his rugby in France, has learned how to tackle the big guys using basic judo-like techniques. None of Skosan, Lleyds, or Rhule (who is inexplicably back in the touring squad) have the same defensive technique. Rhule does not even bother to try. Andries Coetzee is only slightly better.
Perhaps the biggest weakness amongst the South Africa back three is the complete and utter inability to deal with the high ball. None of them truly contest the ball in the air. They are consistently outjumped by everyone they play against, even scrumhalves. All three make a feeble attempt to get off the ground and often turn their backs as if to absorb the impact they fear is coming. Not one of them runs in and leaps for the ball with any serious intent.
Their ball pouching skills are also wayward. It is often just one hand flapping uselessly at the ball. There is no intent to catch the ball.
And then there is the complete lack of communication and nomination under the high ball. One of the basics of ball sports, taught to us in junior school, on cricket fields, soccer fields, rugby fields, and even hockey fields across the world, is to CALL for the ball. Nominate yourself, and take the ball. But not if you are a Springbok wing or fullback, you prefer a free-for-all approach, it seems.
It is a bit like watching u13 girls play netball for the “C” team.. That team that nobody wants to play for. The one where the “D” team girls cry if they get elevated to the “C” team, because they know that they will never win a game, ever.
A lightweight trio of players thus, with very little to offer on defence, and no real muscle on attack, they are flyers who love the wide open spaces where they can run to their heart’s content. And it is here that the next big problem is to be seen. None of the three is very good at linking play, bringing the ball back to support, and passing or offloading the ball when they run into trouble. They create nothing.
I cannot recall a single good run by Andries Coetzee all year, that has not ended with him being isolated and then dying with the ball. The man does not pass. Period.
It is not as if there are not replacements out there! Where is Ruan Combrink, Willie le Roux, Warrick Gelant, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Werner Kok?
Enough of the woes of the back three.
The Springbok midfield has been another disaster area for the team. Damian de Allende is so woefully out of form, and seems so out of shape, that I am not quite sure why he is in the squad. I know that the old adage is that form is temporary and class permanent, but you still pick form players for critical matches! Not that I can see a form inside centre anywhere in Allister Coetzee’s squad. He allowed Jan Serfontein to put club ahead of country, he left the likes of Rohan Janse van Rensburg at home, and took along De Allende and a true journeyman in Francois Venter. Neither are in top form, while De Allende has played very little rugby at all in the last 12 months.
It is time to accept that Jesse Kriel is not a centre three-quarter. He has no idea of running lines, crabbing across the field and into trouble with every ball. He has no idea of linking and running supporting lines, he has no idea at all how to pass the ball. He seems to suffer from some form of “White Line Fever” where he simply charges ahead mindlessly, clinging to the ball until a final desperate attempt is made to rid himself of the ball, most usually to a grateful opponent who takes it away.
Some suggested that the coaches need to work with him and that he has potential. I am sure he has the potential, but, I am sorry, that is not the job of a national coach. This is something that needs to be done down at club level, not even provincial or franchise level. These are the very basics of the game of rugby.
I would suggest he try wing………
I am not a great fan of Jan Serfontein, his penchant for tucking the ball under and arm and charging straight at opponents is still a huge problem, but granting him time off from the national squad must be one of the biggest mistakes in Allister Coetzee’s career. At least Serfontein provides leadership to the back division, and has the vision to direct play when he is not trying to run over an opponent.
The inexplicable discarding of Frans Steyn boggles the mind.
Rohan Janse van Vuuren is another who still needs time to develop, he tends to run away from support and then dies with the ball, and his defence is not quite what it should be, but surely he is a better option than the two Coetzee has taken along to Europe? Where are the likes of Harold Vorster, Lionel Mapoe, Burger Odendaal?
Then we turn to the halfbacks.
Somewhere, sometime, somehow Allister Coetzee has to accept that Elton Jantjies is NOT an international flyhalf. He is a very very good attacking provincial flyhalf who loves playing off the front foot against lesser opponents and those who do not put pressure on him. When the pressure is turned up, he simply sinks without trace. This has happened enough times for even the blindest, most loyal, coach in the world to see.
And it happened again on Saturday. As soon as the Irish started to put pressure on Jantjies and his backs, he started to retreat deeper and deeper into the pocket, slowing his own game down and forcing his backs to start from static positions deep behind the gain line. His tactical kicking became more and more wayward, and his entire game dissolved into mediocrity. He provided no leadership to his back division, and certainly gave no evidence of game management. He was completely outplayed by his opposite number.
Once again, the Springboks have plenty of alternatives! Handre Pollard is the immediate answer, even if he is a little short of game time. From the moment he was introduced against the Irish, a certain calmness was evident. His kicks were accurate, he took the ball flatter and took it to the gain line. There was more purpose in the game. Unfortunately, it was all too little, all too late. The horse had bolted and the stable door was firmly closed.
Robert du Preez is not everyone’s favorite, but he is classy, calm, controls a game superbly, gets his backs moving with pace, and is physical in contact. He has an eye for the chance and scores tries. He had a very good Super season and a superb Currie Cup. He is also back home in South Africa.
Damian Willemse is another candidate who was left at home. We know where Frans Steyn is.
South Africa’s single biggest problem is at scrumhalf. Ross Cronje is nothing more than a journeyman scrumhalf. When he is calm and focused, he gets his backs going with fairly accurate passing, but there is very little flair, very little magic, and almost no enterprise. His game management is pedestrian at best. And his tactical kicking is best left for others. On Saturday his box-kicks were absolutely atrocious.
Rudi Paige is no better. A bit quicker around the base of scrums, rucks, and maul, but he is no great passer, no great kicker, and shows zero game management skills whatsoever.
Sadly, the Lions, South African rugby and Allister Coetzee somehow allowed Faf de Klerk to leave the country. I am not sure what he did to upset Johan Ackermann and then Allister Coetzee, but he found himself on the outside looking in at the Lions, and then simply discarded by the Springbok coach, as a consequence he was quickly snapped up by predatory scouts from England. Cobus Reinach was also allowed to go the same route.
Jano Vermaak must have done something wrong too, Dewald Duvenhage is in the same boat. Neither are truly brilliant scrumhalves, but both are as steady as a rock, and have the ability to manage a game.
Essentially, South Africa’s back division, from the scrumhalf all the way out to the fullback, is in a complete mess. There is no senior player that takes command of the backs and provides focus and leadership, and there is no tactician that can dictate a game. Skills are sadly lacking in so many areas; there is no tactical nous whatsoever.
The back division’s defensive lines are atrocious. I am not sure what Brendan Venter is doing, or thinking, but his outside backs – the outside centre and wings – invariably come inside on defence. They leave the outside channels completely open, time and time again, with just Andries Coetzee drifting out to cover that space, often as the first and only defender! There is no second line behind him!
The defence also adopts the lag, or drift, approach as a default option, although this cannot ever work if your outside backs are drifting in the wrong direction. Allowing the opponents to get across the gain line before you tackle them is seriously flawed. Your default is thus to defend off the back foot? What has happened to aggressive defence?
It sometimes seems that the only real defender is the inside centre and that the rest is left to scrambling forwards and chasers. Something is very seriously wrong with the entire defensive approach. Methinks it is a coaching problem?
I now turn to the forwards.
Whilst the Springbok pack did not have it all their own way against the Irish, they battled fiercely and did not let their team down.
Yes, there were issues.
A retreaded flanker at 8th man was exposed as a flaw as François Louw battled to control the ball at the base of the scrum. South Africa lost two scrum-balls as a result, and were penalized once, after having hooked the ball on all three occasions. Where is Duane Vermeulen? Why was Nizaam Carr left at home?
Siya Kolisi, so often the spearhead of the South African loosies, seemed to be fatigued and unfocussed. He was not as influential as we know him to be. He did not make any serious mistakes, but he was short of his best.
Using a somewhat ponderous retreaded lock forward as a flanker is a South African penchant that goes back to the 1970’s when we saw the likes of Theuns Stofberg, and even a monster like Klippies Kritzinger chosen on the flank. In the 1995 World Cup Final we saw a lock playing at 8th man and on the flank at times. This thread runs right through to today.
On Saturday we again saw Pieter-Steph du Toit deployed as a flanker. He tried his best, he always does, but he is no breakaway, and he is no fetcher. He is a superb ball carrier, and he makes his tackles count, but as a flanker, he is simply cannon fodder. This man is one of the two best locks in South Africa and he is being badly misused, abused even, by the Springbok coach.
The lack of a real loose trio combination saw the Springboks being outmuscled at the breakdowns and in contact situations. This is a selection issue! Where is Kwagga Smith, Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Dan du Preez, or even Paul Schoeman?
Wilco Louw found the going tough when he suddenly had to strip off his tracksuit and play a full eighty minutes when he only expected a 20-minute dash at the end. He struggled in the first ten minutes, but settled down well enough. On the other side of the scrum the Beast Mtawarira was back to his mediocre worst after a couple of superb games this year. He just could not get the better of his opponent, though he worked hard. It is time for the younger, stronger, and I would suggest fitter, Kitshoff to start games.
The forwards had a somewhat off day, but they cannot be blamed for the overall display by the Springboks. They held their own. Their back division was playing a different game altogether.
My final point for this missive is to comment on leadership. Eben Etzebeth has been handed the role of temporary captain while a true leader, Warren Whiteley, recovers from injuries. Etzebeth is one of the iconic strong men of the rugby world, and his fellow players respect him.
He does an acceptable job as captain when things are going well, even in some tight situations. However, when the wheels come off he has no idea how to rally the troops, how to impose his will on the team and to lead them with that steely determination that is critical in adversity. This is no fault of his own. He leads from the front, but that is not captaincy, that is just being a great lock forward. He is completely a novice in the captaincy role. He does not captain his province, and he does not captain his Super franchise. He has no experience to draw on and use to provide the leadership the team needs when the whole chassis is wobbling.
I am not going to comment on the Springbok game plan, as I could not see one to comment on!
In contrast to the woeful Springboks, Ireland were in fine form, and fully deserved their 38-3 win on Saturday.
They dominated almost every aspect of the game and controlled proceedings from start to finish. Their halfbacks exposed the South African backs in every aspect of play with astute kicking, clever thinking, and great game management. It was a tactical masterclass with a clever game-plan.
In the first half Ireland dominated the possession and territorial stakes and won the bulk of the collisions. When the lead went to 14 -0 I sent my father a text saying that it would be a very long way back if the Springboks were going to win. They were being outplayed by a better prepared, more focused and fitter outfit.
The second half saw some better play by the Springboks, but it would all founder on constant errors, silly mistakes, and misguided individual efforts. They did enough to actually dominate some of the game statistics, but it was all to no avail.
Ireland thoroughly deserved to beat this disjointed Springbok outfit.
Tries: Conway, Ruddock, Herring, Stockdale
Cons: Sexton, Carbery 2
Pens: Sexton 4
For South Africa:
A quick look at the Game Stats:
Ireland won the game by 38 to 3, scoring 4 tries to nil. They also goaled one conversion and four penalty goals. South Africa scored one penalty goal, their only attempt at kicking for goal all afternoon.
The ball was in play for a total of 35 minutes, slightly above the international average which currently stands at 32,5 minutes.
Interesting, perhaps frustratingly so, South Africa dominated both territory (61% to 39%) and possession (54% to 46%) but were unable to convert that dominance into any kind of pressure.
Attacking and Defence stats:
South Africa carried the ball 105 times, making 602 meters with the ball in hand. Ireland carried the ball 93 times, making 568 meters with the ball in hand.
Ireland managed 5 linebreaks, South Africa none.
Both teams managed 3 tackle breaks apiece.
South Africa passed the ball 151 times, with 139 of those passes finding their target. This is a 92% pass accuracy rate.
Ireland passed the ball 123 times, with 115 reaching their target, a pass accuracy rate of 93%.
Ireland made two offloads, South Africa just 1.
South Africa took the ball into the ruck 91 times, and then lost possession in the ruck 5 times. Ireland took the ball into the ruck 83 times, and lost that possession just twice.
South Africa set and won 5 mauls, Ireland 3.
South Africa conceded 18 balls turned over in open play, Ireland conceded 15.
Turnovers at the ruck went to Ireland 6 to 2.
Ireland had to make 148 tackles, missing 15 for a 92% success rate.
South Africa made 105 tackles, but missed 17, for a somewhat average 88% success rate.
Dominant tackles, oddly, went to South Africa 22 to 11.
Ireland kicked the ball from the hand 26 times, South Africa 22. Ireland made a gain of 778 meters from kicks, South Africa just 552.
Ireland made 35 handling errors, South Africa 29.
South Africa conceded 7 penalties, Ireland just 5, but the four against South Africa at the scrum were worrying. Ireland, on the other hand, conceded their penalties for offside at the rucks and in open play. South Africa did not concede an offside penalty in the whole game.
Both sides won 11 lineouts, but South Africa managed the solitary steal. Ireland also had two bad throws at the lineout, while South Africa made no such mistakes.
Whilst there were no tightheads hooked, South Africa lost two scrums, both as a result of errors at the base after the ball had been hooked.
15 Rob Kearney
As good as it gets on the day. Accepted the gifts offered by wayward South African kicking. Counter-attacked well, linking with his support runners easily. Good on attack, very good on defence. 8/10
14 Andrew Conway
Attacked with every ball he received. Made constant effort to be in the face of South African receivers. Very good opportunist try. Made his opponents look mediocre. 7/10
13 Robbie Henshaw
Another who chased every ball to put serious pressure on South African receivers. Stopped Kriel in his tracks time and again. Drifted a bit on attack, but that was no problem against a clueless defence. 6/10
12 Bundee Aki
Chased every ball, and every man in green and gold with the ball in hand. Made some good meters with the ball in hand. Very good debut. 7/10
11 Jacob Stockdale
A solid, if somewhat quiet night considering the fun the rest of his team were having. Good defence. Good try. 6/10
10 Johnny Sexton
Totally outclassed Elton Jantjies. Game management of the top order, kicks always accurate and testing. Got his backs going with front foot ball. Solid on defence too. 8/10
9 Conor Murray
Sublime box-kicking exhibition. Good service to his backs, played back to his forwards well. 8/10
8 CJ Stander
Solid in all aspects of his game. Sometimes seemed a bit overeager to get physical. Good, without being great. 6/10
7 Sean O’Brien:
Made some very good meters with the ball, carrying hard and directly. Very good on defence. Menace at the breakdown. 7/10
6 Peter O’Mahony
Good in lineouts, solid elsewhere, especially on defence. Not as visible as the other loosies. Subbed very early. 5/10
5 Devin Toner
Good in lineouts, solid scrummaging, solid defence. Good support. 6/10
4 Iain Henderson
Carried the ball well, tackled well, very solid in support and clearing out. Good in lineouts too. 6/10
3 Tadhg Furlong
Stood up to the Beast and held his own. Not much else in open play, but solid in lineout supports. A couple of very hard cleanouts on the fringes. 5/10
2 Rory Best
Was better than Marx on the day. More visible at the breakdown, more visible carrying the ball. Mostly accurate lineout throwing with two bad ones, defended well . Good on ground with one superb turnover. 7/10
1 Cian Healy
Stood firm against the strength of Wilco Louw to start with, but started to buckle a bit as the game went on. Visible on defence. Some rather lucky moments when he cleaned out fringe players who were not in contact with the ruck or tackle. Subbed fairly early. 5/10
23 Darren Sweetnam (on for Kearny, 74th Minute)
Not enough time to be rated
22 Joey Carbery (on for Sexton, 74th Minute)
Not enough time to be rated
21 Kieran Marmion (on for Murray, 70th Minute)
Did nothing wrong, but nowhere near as dominant as the man he replaced. 6/10
20 Rhys Ruddock (on for O’Mahony, 52nd minute)
Won a good turnover soon after coming on. Good solid defence, good support in open play. 6/10
19 James Ryan (on for Henderson, 70th minute)
Somewhat invisible 20 minutes. Did nothing wrong, but nothing that caught the eye either. 5/10
18 John Ryan (on for Furlong, 70th minute)
Struggled a bit against Kitshoff, but was quite clever in shifting angles on the hit. Nothing that caught the eye. 5/10
17 Dave Kilcoyne (on for Cian Healy, 66th minute)
When he took over, Louw seemed to gain the upper hand in the scrums, but was already a little fatigued. Nothing much to talk about. 5/10
16 Rob Herring (on for Rory Best, 66th minute)
Not quite sure why Rory Best was subbed, but Herring did nothing wrong against his motherland. Scored a good try. 5/10
15 Andries Coetzee
Clueless on attack, no linking with others, turning away from support, counterattacked pointlessly and then died with the ball more often than anyone else. Fair game under the high ball, but has no idea of how to jump for the ball. Kicking still woeful. Poor decision making too, especially in his own 22. Not an international fullback. 3/10
14 Dillyn Leyds
Spent great chunks of the afternoon coming off his own wing, and leaving the channel exposed. Fortunately, the Irish did not exploit that gap much. Not great under the high ball, save for one good tap back. Lost a good front-foot ball forward in the tackle. Just held his own in defence, but seemed to be unsure of his job. 3/10
13 Jesse Kriel
Another pointless non-passing afternoon. Has not learned to pass or offload the ball to anyone. Has no idea how to draw a defender to release someone else with the ball. Held the ball moments too long, and then died in the tackle. Much of the afternoon spent doing a passable impression of a crab, scuttling sideways every time he got the ball. His theme tune should be “Road To Nowhere” because that is where he goes with the ball. Went inwards on defence time and again, leaving the channel between himself and his wing exposed. Not a good day at the office. 2/10
12 Damian de Allende
Possibly his worst day in a Springbok jersey. Simply forgot all the skills he has learned and practiced. Kicked away superb ball when an overlap gave a scoring chance. Leaden-footed and slow, getting caught by rush defence every time. Suffered from poor, static, service by his flyhalf. 1/10
11 Courtnall Skosan
Nope, one good back tackle on Conway does not fix all the mistakes. He left his wing channel with the regularity of an incontinent toddler looking for a potty to sit on, leaving a wide-open space for Ireland to run or kick into. Poor under the high ball, had no clue how to dominate in the air. Forgot to call for balls kicked onto him. Missed a pass from Kolisi that should have been a try. 1/10
10 Elton Jantjies
Poor tactical kicking, poor distribution, poor defence, poor game management. No leadership to his backs. Stood too deep and gave his backs slow flat ball to run with. Surely the evidence that he is NOT an international flyhalf must by now be evident to the coach too? 2/10
9 Ross Cronje
Exposed as the journeyman scrumhalf that he is. Ponderous distribution, equally slow box-kicking telegraphed for the world to see by raising the ball head-high before kicking, and then being hugely inaccurate. Not much evidence of game management. Seemed to be asleep most of the time. 3/10
8 Francois Louw
Not a Number Eight. Period. Messed up too many balls at the base. Made him less than effective at the breakdowns. Carried well, tackled well. 5/10
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit
NOT A FLANK! Slow start, seemed out of sorts, but got into the game later on. Stole a good lineout, and did his own lineout work well. Good on defence, not much room to carry, but was fairly solid with the ball in hand. 5/10
6 Siya Kolisi
Seemed to be a bit rusty. Fair on defence, fair with the ball in hand, ran some good lines, but got isolated too easily. Not at his best. 5/10
5 Lodewyk de Jager
Somewhat invisible. Carried okay, jumped okay, but nothing else. 3/10
4 Eben Etzebeth
His inexperience as captain gets ruthlessly exposed when the wheels are coming off. He had no idea how to rally the troops. His own game was fairly good. Good carries, good tackles, good presence in the lineouts, good support and good cleanouts. But good was not enough. 6/10
3 Coenie Oosthuizen
2 Malcolm Marx
So much was expected after his game against the All Blacks, but he did not live up to expectations. A very quiet day at the office. Some good carries, some good tackles, fair in the scrums. Nothing much more than that. 4/10
1 Tendai Mtawarira
Back to the invisibility that plagued his game in 2016. Scrummed well enough, but was pinged when his knee went to ground. A few carries, but did not always hold onto the ball. His worst performance in 2017. 4/10
23 Francois Venter (on for De Allende, 56th minute)
Would have been difficult to be worse than the man he replaced, and he did have Pollard inside him for most of the time he spent on the field, so he did get better ball. Even so, he suffered from the familiar invisibility curse of a man who is not quite up to international standard. 3/10
22 Handre Pollard (on for Jantjies, 56th Minute)
Took the ball forward better than Jantjies, and his tactical kicking was faultless, but he was already on mission impossible when he came on. 5/10
21 Rudi Paige (on for Cronje, 68th Minute)
Completely invisible after he was introduced. Did nothing at all. His linking play was erratic, though some passing was quicker than Cronje. 4/10
20 Uzair Cassiem (on for Kolisi, 68th Minute)
Twelve invisible minutes. Not really enough time to be rated, but he did nothing noticeable anyway. 4/10
19 Franco Mostert:
18 Wilco Louw (on for Oosthuizen, second minute)
Seemed a bit overwhelmed when he had to come on so early. Struggled to get going, but got better and better as the game wore on. Fair support lines, fair clearing out at rucks. One or two good carries. Not much more. 5/10
17 Steven Kitshoff (on for Mtawarira, 54th minute)
I remain puzzled why he does not start games. A much better scrummager than the Beast, and makes an impact in every aspect of his play. Did nothing wrong after he came on. 5/10
16 Bongi Mbonambi(on for Marx, 68th Minute)
Another Invisible 12-minute cap. Not really enough time to be rated, but did nothing outstanding, nothing wrong. 4/10