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Springboks need to learn from draw





The Springboks will no doubt have a little extra weight in their bags as they head to New Zealand…the weight of disappointment from a test they should have won.

Having done so well to fight back from a 20-10 deficit against a desperate Wallaby side, and having gained the lead, they just lacked those small but significant degrees of composure, judgement and accuracy to finish the job off.

Those attributes tend to come with experience. As a team that is growing they will learn from it, so that the next time they are in such a position they will get the job done.

What they did demonstrate was great resolve and character in a hostile environment, in front of a crowd fired up by the division in Australian rugby, and if they can learn the lessons and sustain their effort they are a chance for their first win in New Zealand since 2009.

And if they’re to be a chance at The Rugby Championship they’ll need that win.

The draw has opened the door for the All Blacks to have it tied up by the time they get to Cape Town in October, so it makes this weekend's test at Albany the pivotal game of the series.

Allister Coetzee says his team has the game to take on the All Blacks, and it could be that some of the planets are aligning.

Firstly, the All Blacks are not playing at their best.

They are used to teams firing up to take them on, but this year they have been put under considerable pressure in four of their six matches, from the suffocating Lions defence in the second and third tests, by Australia’s lightning start in Dunedin, and by the Pumas through the middle stages of the test in New Plymouth.

It might have been even tougher on Saturday had the Pumas been a little more bold.

Conventional wisdom is to take the points when they are on offer, but there is also a school of thought that if you want to change history you have to roll the dice.

Up by 19-15, the Pumas won a penalty near the All Black line and Beauden Barrett was sent to the bin. Agustin Creevy pointed to the posts and the score became 22-15, but that was never going to be enough. Surely with a one-man advantage in the backs that was the chance to have a crack for the try that could have really forced the issue.

In the end the result underlined the All Blacks' storied ability to find a way out of a tight situation.

But they are still not playing near the peak of their capabilities, and a few niggling problems have emerged.

They are now without their three best props of recent times, with Owen Franks and Joe Moody sidelined for the rest of the year, and Charlie Faumuina playing in France.

They are trying to regenerate their depth, rolling out an almost experimental side at New Plymouth.

The jury is still out on Damien McKenzie at fullback, with his attacking brilliance offset by occasional costly errors of judgement. He needs time, but (if chosen) this will be his biggest test, with a lot of airmail likely to come his way.

Barrett remains one of the most electrifying talents in the game, but his goalkicking is not always reliable (to be fair his three misses on Saturday were all from wide out) and he has become a recidivist offender for silly professional fouls.

It also appears that they are trying to figure out a way to beat the rush defence that everyone will now try and use, having seen the Lions employ it with such success. For the time being, at least, they appear to be passing the ball a lot more and kicking a lot less.

On the plus side their set piece has been excellent bar one scruffy lineout in New Plymouth that cost them a try, and they have uncovered a stunning new force in Vaea Fifita.

Fifita was spotted by Murray Mexted playing for Tamaki College in Auckland. In those days he could pretty much run with the ball and not a lot else but Murray recognised his extraordinary athletic talent and took him to Wellington where he has been nurtured into a special player.

He is said to be threatening Rieko Ioane as the fastest player in the All Blacks, amply demonstrated by his stunning try against the Pumas. He waited too long to pass to McKenzie after another barnstorming run, and fell off a couple of tackles which showed there are still rough edges to be smoothed.

He is unlikely to start against the Springboks but could be given a shot from the bench.

The side will, aside from those front rowers and the absentee Ben Smith, be back to strength, with the likes of Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ryan Crotty, Liam Squire and Sam Cane returning to the starting fifteen.

The All Blacks know they have to lift their game this weekend, cut out the errors, improve their accuracy, not give away yellow cards and get back to playing well right through the full 80, and if the challenge of the Springboks can’t bring that out of them, then perhaps they are in a bit of trouble.

We fully expected this upcoming test would be a major pointer to this years championship, but the draw in Perth means it’s now crucial to South African hopes.

The Boks do remain unbeaten for the year, let’s not forget.

The set piece has been very solid, and it is sad to see Coenie Oosthuizen out of action after getting back to his best form. Stephen Kitshoff has been very impressive off the bench and must be close to a starting role.

They benefitted from some reckless play by the Wallabies at lineout time and were superior at the breakdown.

They also carried the ball effectively, which does beg the question why they kicked quite so much?

That they found themselves playing too much inside their own half was in part due to ineffective kicking. The Pumas kicked well against the All Blacks and got some results from it, so it’s an area the Boks could use to advantage if they can be more accurate.

Jaco Kriel was again outstanding. I’ve seen people criticising his work at the breakdown in the past but he led a superior Bok effort in that crucial facet of play.

He is forming a very good duo with Siya Kolisi, who made a perfectly timed charge off the defensive line to snuff out Australia’s last bid to take the game (Phil Kearns was calling offside in the Aussie commentary, but Kolisi most certainly was not).

And Jesse Kriel and Jan Serfontein are forming a powerful midfield combination, with Kriel in particular looking good.

It’s just a shame for the Boks that a promising attack at the end broke down because of a 50-50 pass that was not taken, while a hurried dropped goal attempt by Elton Jantjies was charged down. Those crucial moments that make the difference.

Nail those, and it’s a different result, and given that they are fixable issues, then perhaps the Boks should be less disheartened than encouraged going into this next test.

If the All Blacks are approaching a cross roads, as many believe they are, then this encounter might tell us a lot about which way they will head. They could be in decline, they could hit their straps and put it together for a full game.

Just one other thing.

The Springboks will not have to deal with the bogey of Eden Park, where they have not won a test since 1937.

New Zealand Rugby has given the game to North Harbour as part of their policy to spread the benefits of hosting an international around the country. The Harbour region is home to a large proportion of the 30 000 expatriate South Africans living in the Auckland region, while South African Super Rugby sides have tended to do pretty well at the Albany Stadium.

It just adds another factor into what should be a very good test, in the truest sense of the word.


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