Apart from the lack of effectiveness of the ball-carriers, which was chiefly a technical issue, coach Allister Coetzee intimated on Monday that attitude was a major factor in the Springboks’ first ever home loss to Ireland in Cape Town at the weekend.
Coetzee said the team had got carried away, perhaps trying to replicate the flavour-of-the-month style of the Lions in SuperRugby, without attending to the necessary basics first.
“We shouldn’t have got sucked into the SuperRugby vibe, all the feel-good stuff about keeping ball in hand. Test rugby is different, a lot of the time it looks on out wide but it isn’t.
“All credit to Ireland because they scrambled well and worked exceptionally hard with 14 players, but we allowed them to look good by running laterally and unnecessarily forcing offloads. We needed a bit more composure and trust in the system,” Coetzee said on Monday in Johannesburg, where the Springboks play the decisive second Test on Saturday.
Although the shocker at Newlands was meant to be the start of an exciting new era of more positive rugby from the Springboks, the home side got totally carried away, just shovelling the ball wide most of the time and totally failing to capitalise on the one-man advantage they had for an hour after CJ Stander’s red card.
Coetzee said there had been some harsh words about making sure the basics are adhered to first.
“We’ve been brutally honest with each other that that performance was definitely not up to Springbok standard. Some of the lessons are internal things that are definitely only for the camp to know, but Test rugby is definitely built around territory, physicality is crucial and scoreboard pressure as well, because three points in a Test is like a try in SuperRugby. Those are non-negotiables,” Coetzee said.
“Tactically we were off-colour, it was a pressure test and that forced old habits to come out, they played like they do in SuperRugby – have a crack, have a go. But you have to respect certain areas of the field and you can’t force things because that’s what leads to turnovers and sloppy handling.
“The Northern Hemisphere sides are playing much closer to Test rugby than we are in SuperRugby. We’re all talking about ball-in-hand, but there’s still a place for kicking. All Ireland had to do was make it as difficult as possible for us to exit, we got bogged down in our 22. They were very clever tactics and we did not handle them well.”
The Springboks not only found themselves hemmed in when they favoured hands over kicking, but also struggled to get over the advantage line, which Coetzee put down to poor technique.
“We also let ourselves down with our contact skills, to get stripped of the ball so often just shows a lack of awareness in the collisions. It’s about our body height in contact, all about the shoulder battle. Ireland carry the ball very low so they are difficult to stop on the gain-line, they get that extra yard and their cleaners are going forward.
“We need effective ball-carriers, our physicality and intensity were a bit off, not where they should be in Test rugby. It’s about the height of the ball-carriers and how effectively they attack space,” Coetzee said.
In some ways, the red card shown to Stander for his reckless and extremely dangerous “tackle” on Pat Lambie was a blessing in disguise for Ireland; it lifted them to greater heights while there was an unmistakable sense that the Springboks just expected to steamroller them after that.
“I’ve seen many teams win with 14 men. Psychologically, the team with 15 tends to think it will just happen for them and the team with 14 know they have to put in extra effort. How hard Ireland worked was shown by how they managed to tackle JP Pietersen out in the corner at the end of the game. In those situations you have to make sure you go back to basics and do those things right,” Coetzee said.
The coach said the majority of the team that played in the first Test would get the chance to play in the second game at Ellis Park, which they have to win to ensure they don’t lose a series at home to a Northern Hemisphere side for the first time since the 1997 loss to the British Lions.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place because the team as a collective did not play well, but you need to look to give them a second opportunity to rectify that. If you make changes then it looks like panic, but first and foremost, I will be choosing the best team for Saturday.
“I always see the glass as half-full and you will lose rugby Tests, you’re not going to win all your games, whether it be your first Test or your last. The most important thing is how the team responds and I look forward to seeing that. We have to make sure we improve,” Coetzee said.
That means Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk, whose game management earned mixed reviews at Newlands, are bound to start at halfback, although Morne Steyn is likely to provide a reassuring presence on the bench, having been called up on Monday.
Steyn may not be the media’s favourite flyhalf for the future, but there is no doubt that the experience, calm and tactical kicking ability he will bring to Ellis Park was badly missed in the first Test.