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Ken Borland


John McFarland Column: No hiding from Boks’ biggest loss ever, but it was a perfect storm

Posted on September 21, 2017 by Ken

 

I obviously did not foresee South Africa losing 57-0 in Albany and there’s no hiding from the fact that it was a record for the Springboks’ biggest loss ever.

But I think it’s also fair to say that it was the perfect storm and everything went right for New Zealand and everything went wrong for the Springboks. The All Blacks were obviously very good on the day and executed every small chance they got, they ruthlessly punished little things.

It started when the Springboks were playing well but gave away a penalty, with the fullback in the line because they were in their attacking shape. Aaron Smith put the chip in with his weaker left foot and it bounced perfectly for Rieko Ioane.

That’s just the first example.

Then came the intercept try when there needed to be better decision-making under pressure by Jean-Luc du Preez.

The third try came after a penalty and the All Blacks bashed the ball up before the cross-kick, which I hear Beauden Barrett practises 50 times every Friday at the captain’s run. The Springboks had cover with Francois Hougaard there, but unfortunately the ball bounced out of his hands.

The fourth try came after Elton Jantjies produced a nothing kick, it was neither contestable nor deep enough, allowing the counter-attack, and with the hooker defending in the wide channel, the wing did not know whether to come in or stay out.

So it was 31-0 at halftime and in the second half two more tries were scored from five-metre lineouts. You need a back-row forward to stand at the back of the lineout, but Siya Kolisi was in the middle. The golden rule when defending lineouts close to your line is that you don’t give the opposition ball at the back because it basically takes out seven of your players and once they get over the advantage line it becomes a difficult fight.

On the direct one-on-one try scored through the flyhalf, you want your inside centre a bit closer to help and it should be a double-hit.

Allister Coetzee is now in a difficult position when it comes to who to bring into the team. The players had done relatively well before last weekend, but it’s obvious that he will have to make changes. Test rugby magnifies everything and one weakness will be exposed in glaring fashion.

Under Heyneke Meyer, the scores were always close against the All Blacks – an average of less than seven points per game – and one of the reasons was that we often played two fetchers as well as Duane Vermeulen and Bismarck du Plessis. That meant we had four forwards who were very good over the ball.

This is vital because you need to disrupt New Zealand’s attacking shape, you need to force more of them into the rucks and not just let them play. The Springboks certainly missed Jaco Kriel in this regard, but his pace was also missed in defence. The openside flank is normally pillar number three and he leads the line-speed from just inside the flyhalf. Francois Louw has been recalled and it would be quite good if we could play two flanks that play towards the ball against New Zealand.

The Springboks scrummed well at the start, but like in the World Cup semi-final in 2015, we lost five lineouts. That’s a huge factor and it’s why they could not get any attack going. It’s something they have to sort out otherwise the backs are not able to function. It also leaves you very vulnerable because your backs are in attack formation on your own ball and not in their defensive formation, making it easy for the opposition to get over the advantage line on the turnover ball.

I watched the game with Frans Ludeke and he made a good point when he said it is not a lost cause now in the last two games of the Rugby Championship at home. He pointed out that our SuperRugby teams conceded big scores in New Zealand, but won against the Kiwi sides in South Africa. So we should not write off the Springboks just yet, we can only really judge them at the end of the Rugby Championship, but they are obviously playing for second place now.

It’s very hard playing three matches on the trot away from home, especially with the best side in the world being the last game, which is one of the reasons that in the last six years of the Rugby Championship the title race has been over before the final round.

One encouraging thing is that they did not fall away in the last 15 minutes and the All Blacks really had to work hard for their tries in the final quarter.

Before contemplating changes, we must remember that South Africa were the only unbeaten side in world rugby this year going into the game.

But there may have been a case for someone like Ruan Combrinck to come in. He has operated within the Lions’ exit system, he will be a right-footed option to back up the left feet of Andries Coetzee, who has been solid, kicked well and been good with ball in hand, and Elton Jantjies and he also brings a certain magic. He’s currently playing inside centre in Japan for Kotetsu, but he should obviously have been an option because he played well last year for the Springboks and showed he can make a difference in Tests.

Reasons for optimism for the Springboks for their next game against the All Blacks are that Australia have also managed to play better since they were 40-6 down at halftime against New Zealand and both the Stormers and Lions won against Kiwi teams in South Africa.

The Lions beat the Hurricanes convincingly and pushed the Crusaders all the way, so it is very difficult for the New Zealand players playing in South Africa as well. Plus they will be up against a very passionate crowd at Newlands and a Springbok team that will be on a mission.

 

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

 

 

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