It’s a big week for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee after what was, frankly, a poor performance against the Barbarians, and I find it hard to believe a number of our commentators regarded it as an acceptable display, although it is not a foregone conclusion that England will beat South Africa at Twickenham this weekend.
It was a fantastic comeback against the Barbarians – yet another one!
The Springboks did really well to come back from 19-31 down, but they have to turn over less ball at the breakdown. To concede 25 turnovers is completely unacceptable at this level and if they do that against England then they will be hammered. A Barbarians team without much international experience managed to exploit all that turnover ball and England will have even more speed on the wings.
The Springbok defence has to improve, it was continuously providing overlap situations from middle rucks. There is a need to work a lot harder to set the breakdown ie the defence is ready to go before the attack.
The key at international level is never to lose your width but against the BaaBaas the defence wasn’t set quickly enough and there were too many forwards behind or next to the ruck, which will lead to huge problems for the wings. There were structural weaknesses, but I expect a more experienced Springbok team to play this weekend and they will make better decisions on both attack and defence.
As the game progressed, because of this shortage of numbers in defence, Sergeal Petersen would come in and hit the second-last attacker, but he needs to stand wide of a man like Naiyaravoro and wait for the inside players to come and help, hope the numbers arrive to help get him into touch. But he’s not the first big wing the Springboks have played against and I fully expect JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana to be on the wings this weekend and they are used to playing against guys like that.
The positives the Springboks can take into the England match are that their lineout kept them in the game in the first half and they scored a great try through the drive by Pieter-Steph du Toit when the Barbarians stood off, this was a well thought-out tactic and England are bound to do the same as the BaaBaas.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg was quite explosive with ball in hand and finished well, he got over the advantage line well. But he had a lot of space at Wembley which he won’t get at top international level.
Francois Venter showed good hands and support skills for his try, but it will be a difficult decision for Allister Coetzee to choose them against England because Lionel Mapoe and Damian de Allende have been his midfield for most of the year and they are settled together. Maybe he’ll pick the Lions combination of Janse van Rensburg and Mapoe because they know each other and are comfortable together.
Pat Lambie obviously hasn’t played much for a long time and was a bit too deep at times, plus his timing wasn’t quite there. But it was the first time he’s played at flyhalf since June and he just needs game time, we’ll see him at his best only towards the end of the tour. He’s obviously a class act, but it will be interesting to see if Allister goes with him or Elton Jantjies this weekend.
The Springboks have quite categorically stated that they are going to use the kicking game with an attacking line to get the ball back, that is not revolutionary! The accuracy of the kick will be of the utmost importance – is it contestable? – because all of our back three are very good in the air and the forwards will have to have a high work-rate to get underneath the kick and react to the positive tackle from JP or Bryan.
England don’t really play with a sweeper so there is chip space behind the line, especially on box-kicks.
I know people want a specialist at six, but the breakdown is actually the whole team’s job, not just the openside flank’s. The problem against the Barbarians was that too often the carrier would lead with the ball, which allows the choke tackle, and the BaaBaas were destructive with the ball on the floor.
Generally at Test level you want to keep the penalties you concede to less than 10 and your turnovers conceded at around 12, and then you’ve got a chance of winning. But poor technique and knowledge of the game plan and system they were playing meant the players did not instinctively react to where the ball was going. The Springboks did carry the ball more than usual though because they were playing catch-up for most of the game.
England have very good ball-carriers (the Vunipola brothers are quite a handful), their goalkicking is a real strength and their lineout is vastly improved. I think they’ll target having a high ball-in-play figure against South Africa because they will suspect the Springboks’ conditioning may not be at a level to match them at the back end of the year, a few them looked a bit short of a gallop last weekend. Eddie Jones teams tend to play a set way, I think they’ll target our tight five forwards on the blindside with their backs, especially from scrums.
The Springboks have their backs against the wall, but Twickenham has been a good hunting ground especially when South Africa have been under pressure. In 2006, Jake White was under real pressure and won there, and the next year we won the World Cup, while in 2012, under Heyneke Meyer, we came through by a single point after a disappointing Rugby Championship.
The Springboks won there in 2014 as well and the common factor in both those years was that Ernie Els presented the jerseys, he even sat in on the team talks and was at the captain’s practice. He spoke for longer than even Heyneke did and it was one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve heard. He’s always as motivated for this game as the players are and I hope he’ll be in London again for the game!
John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.