It was a really disappointing Springbok performance against England last weekend and there’s no doubt about it, coach Allister Coetzee certainly needs a win on Saturday against Italy.
Playing Italy now is probably the right Test for the Springboks, but I think they will take even a three-point win!
It will be interesting to see which players really stand up to be counted but Allister has not really taken responsibility for the results – he’s the guy in charge, it’s his team, his game and his system and obviously it’s not going well.
In the first half at Twickenham, the Springboks were in the game for the first 30 minutes until JP Pietersen dropped the ball, that turnover on the high ball was quickly moved wide, then kicked and a few lucky bounces later, Courtney Lawes scored the try that took the wind out of the Springboks’ sails.
And they then gave away a soft penalty just before halftime at the breakdown and it was always going to be difficult with that side to play catch-up rugby.
The Springboks are on their third defensive coach in a year – JP Ferreira – and there were some things that were very different in the structure of the defence. Individually there was some really good contact made, but at times they did not set the breakdown and England scrumhalf Ben Youngs was able to go through the gaps easily. The Boks’ pillar defence stood wide and took dummies because their spacing was not right, and their communication of roles and responsibilities was obviously wrong too.
To concede two tries through the pillar area is really soft at international level, but we have to give JP Ferreira time. He’s only been in the job for one month, he’s still dealing with the legacy of Chean Roux’s system and he needs time and our backing.
Apart from the defence – they were also slow to get off the line – the most disappointing aspect of the Springboks’ play was the number of handling errors – nearly 20. Those soft moments, added to kicking penalties over the goal-line or halfway drop-outs going too far, put the whole side under pressure and they are fundamental errors.
The Springboks also gave Billy Vunipola a free ride, he was always getting over the advantage line with ease and gave his backs wonderful front-foot ball. He should have had a target on his back, the Springbok forwards should have kept him quiet but instead he got over the advantage line far too easily. (The last time the Springboks played against Vunipola, he was subbed after 40 minutes having made some cardinal errors).
At the end of the day, after 50 minutes the game was effectively over, although the Springbok bench did quite well and scored two well-worked tries.
The set-piece and the lineout were also areas that went well for the Springboks, but you’d expect that with the size and height of the guys Allister Coetzee chose. The Springboks did not contest the England lineout because they gave them number two ball so that they could have numbers on their feet and be stronger in the vacuum.
So England threw a lot where Beast and Adriaan Strauss were standing, they would set the lineout very quickly or they played tempo with balls to the back. England wanted to keep the ball in play, they didn’t want lineouts or high balls from the Springboks. There were a lot of aerial balls because they did not want the ball to go out.
The Springboks need to fix those system errors in defence and maybe freshen the team up against Italy, it’s certainly a Test where you can give one or two players a chance. But you can’t totally change the side because a Test team needs to develop into a rhythm.
Maybe Johan Goosen should come in at flyhalf and Jamba Ulengo could play on the wing, perhaps Rohan Janse van Rensburg will get a shout at centre. I would think about trying someone like Oupa Mohoje as the openside flank or Nizaam Carr, who made his debut two years ago in the number six jersey against Italy. Plus one of the two young hookers in the squad needs more game time.
But how many starting players and experienced guys are the Springboks missing? Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Handre Pollard, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Frans Malherbe, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen would all make a heck of a lot of difference as very experienced, battle-hardened Test players.
The Springboks should and could get good victories in their last two games – Wales are also under pressure after playing so badly against Australia – and that would end the season well. Allister can then start afresh next year when all his players are back.
Test rugby is a very harsh arena in terms of the scrutiny you are under, there’s no hiding place for anybody. The one thing the Springboks did do well was that they kept working, kept trying and kept hitting their opposition, they never gave up.
The Springboks still have plenty to play for and if they can win their last two matches then they will have won two of their three Tests on tour which would be acceptable. Nobody will be more disappointed with the game against England than the Springbok coaching staff, management and players as a group, and they will not want to let the country down again.
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.