2018 Rugby Championships

 Australia 23  vs South Africa 18

Saturday, September 8

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

 

“As Test matches go, this one promises to provide for much drama, and no small measure of desperation.”

Those were the words with which I opened my preview of this Test Match.

And those words were absolutely correct.

Especially with regard to sentiment about desperation.

It was desperate stuff, from the kick-off right through to the final whistle.

The desperation started with a view of the crowd that attended the match at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Just 27 000 people “flocked” to Suncorp for this Test.

Suncorp can seat 52 000 people. Half the seats were empty.

For a Test Match. The highest level of rugby available to fans.

This is perhaps the real story of the day as two nervous, tense, and increasingly desperate teams came up short in providing a spectacle of rugby for the fans.

Both teams came up short on the basic skills of the game of rugby.

Both teams came up short on the more advanced tactical requirements of Test rugby.

Both teams offered up a bore-fest of mediocre rugby.

Both teams provided a visible reason for the dire state of rugby in the southern hemisphere.

The fans have obviously lost interest in rugby. In Australia at least, plenty of fans have just given up on rugby, full stop.

And the game we saw over the weekend is one of the reasons why fans are losing interest in rugby.

Based on what we saw in this match, there is no doubt that Australia and South Africa are the weakest teams in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks were going to show one and all that they were capable of a better start and more consistency over the full 80 minutes of a Test match, and promptly did nothing of the sort.

Within moments of the kick-off Faf de Klerk hoofed the ball downfield, the chasers were slow and hesitant, and Dane Haylett-Petty caught the ball and started running. He went right, then the Wallabies went left. Michael Hooper bashed straight through Elton Jantjies to score the first try of the game, Toomua converted. And the Springboks had yet again started a Test badly.

Yes, the Boks recovered with Bongi Mbonambi scoring his well-worked try 11 minutes later, and then the visitors dominated the first half as they launched attack after attack, but were continually let down by poor handling and poor decision making.

Mapimpi’s try in the 27th minutes was the result of some good play and clever thinking.

The Boks were dominating most of the game, and the Aussies were looking worried, with big staring eyes and drawn, concerned faces.

Before it again all went a bit pear-shaped for the South Africans.

A defensive lineout on the Springbok 5m line saw a call for the ball to go deep over the 15m line, intended for a loose-forward to poach and then rumble into a ruck for a recycle and a clearance kick.

That was the theory, and I am sure that was what had been practiced. It is a pretty standard lineout option when defending your line, everyone does it.

Sadly, Siya Kolisis totally forgot the playbook drill, allowed the ball to bounce as he stood looking at it with his arms spread wide, while Matt Toomua read the throw, accelerated across the 16 meter gap between himself and the ball, picked it on the bounce and slithered over to score.

Poor Bongi Mbonambi has taken all the flak for that throw and the resultant try. I would suggest that the entire mess was the fault of Siya Kolisi. He should have run onto the throw and caught the ball before it bounced, but he did not, he was slow to react, and then even slower to repair his mistake. In essence, he was napping!

Mbonambi was hauled off and Malcolm Marx was sent on moments later as Rassie Erasmus panicked.

It was unfair on Mbonambi, who had not done anything wrong, and it was unfair on Marx, who was not expecting to be deployed before the 60 minute mark, still some 30 minutes of playing time hence.

It was a singular moment that illustrated that Rassie Erasmus, for all his smiles and public confidence, is feeling the pressure that heaps onto the head and shoulders of a Springbok coach!

Despite the Springboks continuing to attack for the rest of the first half, the width and flair had vanished from their game. It became a somewhat stilted, somewhat dreary series of forward rumbles, time and again, to the end of the first half and then all the way through the second half.

It was boring, achingly tiresome stuff.

Neither side seemed terribly keen to play rugby.

In the whole game the two sides combined to carry the ball just 478 meters. The Wallabies making just 47 carries for 253 meters and the Springboks 40 carries for 225 meters.

Both teams took to mauling the ball upfield in ruck after ruck after ruck, 156 of them in just 29 minutes of ball in play. The continual pick & go – bash and crash stuff yielded some ball movement up and down the field. In fact the two teams together made another 552 meters in this way, but that is not flowing running rugby, it is a meter or two here, another meter or two there, and then a repeat of the same.  Crash, bash, boredom.

The Springboks became so predictable that the Wallabies did not have to think about defending out wide. They clustered their defenders close in on the fringes of the rucks, knowing full well that the Springboks would, invariably, attempt to muscle their way through that channel.

It seemed that the Springboks did not trust their backs to have a go with the ball.

Perhaps the Springboks had the best opportunities to score in the second half, but they eschewed the opportunity by continuing to play mindless crash-ball rugby. Those last five minutes, when they had field position, possession, and momentum would have given any team playing with the faintest modicum of confidence all they needed to even the score and give their kicker a chance to win the game. The Springbok brains trust chose to play forward rugby, almost seeming scared of passing the ball to the backs and taking it wide where the blistering pace of Dyantyi and Kolbe waited, shivering in the cold breeze with nothing to do.

Neither side was keen to pass the ball – the Wallabies gave just 99 good passes, and the Springboks a slightly larger number, 105.

And those few passes resulted in a massive 37 handling errors. 17 by the Wallabies and 20 by the Springboks.

The only slight glimmer of bright light came for the Springboks, both their tries were to come from positive, constructive play.

The Wallabies might have won the Test, but they produced very little in terms of constructive rugby. Both the Wallaby tries came from Springbok mistakes.

Whilst the Springboks were poor, sadly, so were the Wallabies. Their experiment with Kurtley Beale at flyhalf should be considered a dismal failure. He did not play to any tactical pattern or with any direct focus. Everything he did seemed to be spur-of-the-moment stuff, and was often sideways rugby. His passing is telegraphed as he turns his shoulders to pass the ball, allowing the Springbok defenders to drift wide the moment he dipped into the pass. You could read him like a book.

Yes, the Wallaby side were probably a bit disjointed by the late withdrawal of Israel Folau and Adam Coleman, but these are not their primary playmakers, rather they are a finisher and a muscle, so their absence cannot explain the lack of ideas, skills and penetration in the home teams’ ranks.

Will Genia was probably the most influential player on the field, taking both sides into consideration.

This was a scruffy, bumbling affair, with zero enterprise, even less excitement, and nothing that would make it worth watching your recording of the game again. (Unless you suffer from insomnia.)

From my perspective, the decision to field Elton Jantjies as the starting flyhalf was simply a waste of time. Known for his attacking qualities, his presence was unnecessary and wasted; the entire exercise was futile as the Springbok game plan was rumble and grumble rugby. The muttering about the conditions not suiting his game are nonsense – a quality flyhalf plays in any conditions.

The Springboks needed a tactical flyhalf who would keep the ball in front of his forwards or who would take the ball up in the close channel. This is not Jantjies game, hence he was invisible almost all afternoon. He kicked the ball 6 times, making 85 meters, he made 6 passes, made 8 tackles and missed 3. He did carry the ball three times and made a good break to accumulate 41 running meters. And that is all she wrote.

He did not spark anything amongst his back division, he was simply anonymous.

Damian de Allende was the pick of the Springbok backs as he carried the ball 10 times and made 61 meters with the ball in hand. He made 11 tackles, and missed 2, with a third where he slipped off the tackle with just a grasping hand. Playing to the crash-ball game plan, he did not pass the ball outside much, only two passes went out, everything else was taken back to the forwards.

That was poor tactical planning, Rassie, poor tactical planning!

Willie le Roux would rather we did not discuss his afternoon, with 5 handling errors, 3 turnovers conceded, and just 5 ball carries for 30 meters. He passed the ball 10 times. He was not tested under the highball, and had very little to do on defence as the Wallabies lacked any penetration and intent on the attack, making just 2 tackles and missing none.

In short, this was one of the worst Test matches that I have ever watched. It was poor rugby, played by two jittery teams with zero confidence, lacking in enterprise and innovation, and with the skills of a pick-up team from your local pub.

Individual Player Assessments:

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux: 3

It was an off-day at the office for le Roux. He made two crucial knock-ons and chipped an attacking ball straight into touch. Invisible for long stretches of the game, it seemed that he was chosen just because 15 men had to run on for the start.

14 Makazole Mapimpi: 4

Injury prone? A fair 33 minutes when he looked as if he was prepared to have a go with the ball in hand, with an easy stroll-in try to boot, but then another injury and another Test cut short. I worry that he hangs around on the wing waiting for the ball rather than looking for work the way a Bryan Habana used to.

13 Jesse Kriel: 4

He will be wondering why he was on the field? He was not given the opportunity to run with the ball as his team chose to play crash-bash rugby close in. He did make one superb tackle, but messed up a tactical kick. Jesse should not kick a rugby ball, ever.

12 Damian de Allende: 6

Best of the Bok backs. Solid in everything he did, but the game plan did not allow him to play a linking role and send the ball out wide. Made a couple of huge tackles. Worked hard and carried well in limited space.

11 Aphiwe Dyantyi: 4

Team photographer? Was not given anything else to do. Screwed up one kick receipt.

10 Elton Jantjies: 4

The one plus from this game is that he did not rattle. The Wallabies simply left him alone and gave him all the room in the world to do……. Nothing.  Brought none of his attacking prowess to the game, and there was no tactical nous either. Invisible for the most part, he did have two defensive blunders worth commenting on – the first when he could not stop Hooper’s try, and the second when Beale ran over him to send Maddocks towards the corner. Fortunately the cover defence held. Much is being made of the “conditions did not suit his game” which is utter stuff and nonsense – you cannot be a “good weather only” player. A top quality player can play in any conditions, period.

9 Faf de Klerk: 3

More mistakes in one game than he has made in all the other Tests he has played. Poorly judged kick that gave Hooper his try, missed balls at the base of the ruck, handling errors, weird passes, caught off-sides despite warnings from the ref, a high tackle. Sometimes his captain needs to pat him on the shoulder and say “Think, Faf, Think!”

8 Warren Whiteley: 5

Better first half, but seemed to run out of steam and ideas afterwards. He still seemed a little lightweight for a Test 8. Good tackling, but ineffectual ball carrying, and was often tackled back in the hit.

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit: 6

He will never let you down. Solid, focussed, and physical. Great tackles, especially one on Toomua. Although I prefer him in the second row, if he is allowed to focus on the blindside position he may be one of the greats. Reminds me a bit of Juan Smith.

6 Siya Kolisi: 5

Hot, and cold. Seemed to be playing in spurts, and captaining the same way. Made a complete hash of the deep thrown defensive lineout – it was a practice ground move that he butchered. Some good carries and tackle bursts.

5 Franco Mostert: 4

I dunno? He just seemed to lack presence in all departments. A shade off his physical best, a shade slow on the tackle, a little off with his clean-out timing, not quite as robust in the carry. Not quite as competitive in the lineout. Is he fatigued?

4 Eben Etzebeth: 6

A massive hour from the big guy. He was the fire in the Bok pack in the first 40 minutes and helped them get dominance in the exchanges. Made some big tackles, a tower of strength under the kick-offs. Solid in the lineouts, good carries. Not sure why he was subbed?

3 Frans Malherbe: 6.

If I questioned his fitness after the first two Tests, there was no doubt that the prop was firing on all cylinders this week. Lost a ball in contact early on, but not another mistake from then on. Scrummed well, and tackled like a Trojan. One massive try saving stop. Carried the ball with purpose.

2 Bongi Mbonambi: 6

HE SHOULD NOT TAKE THE BALME FOR THE TOOMUA TRY! He was doing well in the scrums and lineouts, carrying well, and tackling hard when the deep throw was misread by Kolisi. He was powerful in controlling and guiding the mauls too, rewarded with a great try. He should not have been subbed so early.

1 Steven Kitshoff: 6

Started well, massive work rate, although he made a couple of silly mistakes in the rucks that earned deserved penalties. Scrummed well, struggled with Taniela Tupou in their first scrum, but then worked him out and held him until he folded the youngster. Carried the ball well, and made some big hits, Two quick lineout takes too. Hands let him down with one crucial knock-on.

Replacements:

16 Malcolm Marx 5 (on for Mbonambi, 35th min):
Took a while to get into the game as he was sent on a good 30 minutes earlier than anyone expected. Made some he tackles, and was busy in broken play, but not quite the imperious dominance we expect from him. Lineouts fair, and scrummaging good.

17 Tendai Mtawarira 5 (on for Kitshoff, 58th min):
Struggled in his very first scrum, but then got the better of the young Aussie giant Tupou as he worked out how to negate his power. A bit anonymous around the field. 4/10

18 Wilco Louw 5 (on for Malherbe, 58th min):
Powerful in the scrum, and some good cleaning out, carried the ball strongly, but in the crash/bash of the latter stages of the game he was pretty average.

19 Rudolph Snyman 3 (on for Etzebeth, 61st min):
Zero impact, not sure why he was sent on. Did nothing, tackled nobody, carried nothing, caught nothing. Test rugby is about actions, not posing as an enforcer.

20 Francois Louw 5 (on for Whiteley, 62nd minute):
Tried hard and went in for the ball on the ground, which nobody else was really trying to do. Made a couple of good tackles.

21 Embrose Papier:
Not used.

22 Handré Pollard 4 (on for Jantjies, 65th min):
Deployed much too late in the game, when his instinct for creating space and turning defenders would have been better than the total anonymity of the man he replaced. By the time he went on the Springbok game plan had deteriorated to crash/bash stuff with the flyhalf mostly just a spectator, and he thus made no impact at all.

23 Cheslin Kolbe 4 (on for Mapimpi, 34th min):
Struggled to get into the game, with a defensive error and some good moments, but did not get the ball with any go-forward opportunity.

Australia

15 Dane Haylett-Petty 5
Fair on defence, missing two and making 5 tackles, and solid with the ball in hand, 8 carries for 40 meters, but the first carry was the defining moment as it led to Hooper’s try.

14 Jack Maddocks 4
Kind of anonymous, made a couple of tackles and won a turnover. Was caught by some great cover defence when a try seemed on.

13 Reece Hodge 4
Except for one huge penalty kick he did not do anything worth mentioning. Made

12 Matt Toomua 7
My Man of the Match for his clever game management and calming effect on his teammates when their eyes went wide and staring. Great defence with 10 tackles, and no misses. Well taken opportunist try.

11 Marika Koroibete 3
Anonymous, expect when he started to get involved with off-the-ball stuff. No penetration on the run and was easily cut down, time and again. Poor defence.

10 Kurtley Beale 4
Not a flyhalf, shouldn’t play flyhalf ever again. Poor distribution, telegraphing his passes, and zero penetration except for one bulldozing run when he flattened Jantjies. He needs space, and the flyhalf berth does not give him that freedom.

9 Will Genia 7
Accurate, focussed, and determined. Great game management, good service to his backs, and pressure on de Klerk all the time.  Missed some tackles.

8 Pete Samu 3
Not sure why the Aussies insisted on securing his services from New Zealand. Ineffectual, lightweight, and anonymous.

7 Michael Hooper 2 (for being a liar and a cheat)
His predetermined and deliberate carping at the referee with constant quibbles about decisions, slowing the game, and demands for yellow cards has become as distasteful as the temper tantrum of a certain tennis diva. It is gamesmanship, not sportsmanship. Perhaps the moment that defines him was when he was tackled in the air by Snyman, who did not complete the tackle although he was certainly in the wrong to make contact. Hooper landed on his feet, and then told the referee that he had landed on his head! A liar! This after he had head-butted Snyman, which went unpunished! Whatever else he did, it was not enough to earn him anything other than my disdain.

6 Lukhan Tui 6
Probably the best of the Aussie forwards, with a good tackle count and some impressively physical carries.

5 Izack Rodda 6
Tackled, cleaned out, carried well, stole a lineout. A solid days work from the lock forward.

4 Rory Arnold 4
Seemed to run out of steam before the end of the first half! Stole a lineout early on, and then went missing in action.

3 Allan Alaalatoa 4
Solid in the early scrums, but started to creak as the game wore on. Nothing much else.

2 Tatafu Polota-Nau 4
Struggled in the scrums, but was solid enough at the lineout throws.  Made some great tackles and won a couple of turnovers.

1 Scott Sio 4
Never quite sure that he is the best option for the Aussie front row. He struggled all day in the scrums. Made some tackles, but was generally anonymous.

Replacements:

16 Folau Fainga’a 3 (on for Polota-Nau, 34th min):
His line-out throwing was poor and his work-rate equally poor. His “injury” substitution in the last ten minutes seemed al ittle suspect, more tactical than true.

17 Tom Robertson (on for Sio, 70th min):
Not enough time to be rated.

18 Taniela Tupou 4 (on for Alaalatoa, 48th min):
One good scrum and from then he was under pressure in the scrums, eventually folding up in pain. Carried the ball powerfully, but without penetration, he is too easily stopped for a man with his weight and power. Missed as many tackles as he made.

19 Rob Simmons 4 (on for Rodda, 42nd min):
Made some tackles, missed some tackles, cleaned a few rucks, stood off a couple of others. Conceded a penalty. Another anonymous performance amongst so many on both sides.
5/10

20 Ned Hanigan (on for Arnold, 77th min):
Not enough time to be rated.

21 Joe Powell:
Not used.

22 Bernard Foley 3 (on for Maddocks, 62nd min):
Brought absolutely nothing to the game when he was sent on. No impact on attack, no tactical influence, made a few tackles.
4/10

23 Tom Banks 4 (on for Hodge, 69th min):
Came onto the field and vanished.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries: Hooper, Toomua
Cons: Toomua 2
Pens: Toomua 2, Hodge

For South Africa:
Tries: Mbonambi, Mapimpi
Con: Jantjies
Pens: Jantjies 2

Teams:

Australia – revised: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Will Genia, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Jack Maddocks.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Cheslin Kolbe