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Rugby | Springboks

Eben Etzebeth © Gallo Images

Boks must learn from missed opportunity

Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth didn’t leave too much doubt after the Perth stalemate that he saw it as a missed opportunity for his men – and he was right to do so.

Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper was able to reflect on missed opportunities too, and you should do that when you draw after holding a 10 point lead in the second half, but you won’t get too many dissenters to the contention that the first half was easily the Boks’ worst 40 minutes of the season so far.

They looked like a team that was nervous and perhaps expected more from the Australians than the Wallabies delivered. The elementary and unforced errors of the first half cost the Boks a victory that should have been theirs as the second half, when the Bok pack came into its own and asserted the anticipated dominance, showed that there is nothing special about this Wallaby team and that perhaps too much was read into their narrow defeat in Dunedin a few weeks ago.

The All Blacks are next for the Boks and their coach Allister Coetzee is right in stating that the Kiwis can be beaten and in making it clear that the Bok mission in Albany is to win the game and not just seek to be competitive. The South Africans need to win or we are going to have yet another home leg of the Rugby Championship where the title is already decided.

The Boks might have been able to afford to lose the away game against New Zealand had they won in Perth. But the two missed log points on a day when Kieran Read’s All Blacks grabbed a full house of five against the Pumas makes all the difference to the chances of the trophy still being on the line when Australia and New Zealand get to South Africa at what should be the business end of the competition.

If the Boks hope to beat New Zealand they have to learn quickly from where it went wrong in Perth and take a leaf out of both the Wallaby and Puma book. In other words, they need to be switched on from the start and they need to score early points. The Bok conditioning has improved, and they showed that with their strong finish in Perth, but the All Blacks retain their unique ability to change gears when they need to and to crank it up in the last quarter.

They are not a team you can afford a bad start against and the sloppiness of the first half in Perth will prove fatal if it is repeated in Albany. For the All Blacks are a bit like new US Open tennis champion Rafael Nadal in that they are ruthless in punishing mistakes.

Where they may be different from Nadal these days though is that they do actually make mistakes. If Argentina can force them into errors and be competitive for almost an hour then so can the Boks, and you fancy that if the South Africans are still in the game going into the last quarter they’d have a much better chance of closing it out than the Pumas or even the Wallabies.

One of the big Bok strengths remains the bench but Coetzee has some thinking to do this week before deciding whether he will stick to the same formula against the All Blacks. The Bok back row played well as a collective against Australia but there are still question marks about the balance of the unit and the massive impact the new All Black blindside flank Vaea Fifita had on the game in New Plymouth earlier in the day would have been noted by Coetzee.

Fifita, who scored a crucial try by moving surprisingly quickly for his massive bulk to round the Puma defence out wide on the hour mark, has been retreaded to the flank from lock and is in the mould of the traditional Bok No 7 (of course the blindside flank wears No 6 in the rest of the world). Legendary Bok No 7 Theuns Stofberg was also initially a lock and played most of his provincial rugby there.

The inclusion of a player in the Fifita mould adds grunt to the drive and physicality to the tight loose exchanges. It also adds to the All Black lineout options. Coetzee is going to have to consider whether he continues with Jean-Luc du Preez, who has gained invaluable international experience playing off the bench, as an impact substitute, or whether he starts with him in an attempt to blunt the Kiwi quest for physical ascendancy in the early minutes.

What Coetzee doesn’t have is the problem faced by his opposing coach Steve Hansen when it comes to goalkicking. Elton Jantjies did miss a crucial kick in the first half but was otherwise sound from the tee. What he does need to do though is ensure that his key players tighten up their field kicking game.

Jantjies was good at finding space behind the Wallabies with his kicks in the first half and it enabled the Boks to enjoy some territory at a point when they weren’t winning much possession. However, too many of the Bok kicks were too long, and that will be punished by a great counter-attacking team like the All Blacks. It goes without saying that the other repeated mistake made by Jantjies, meaning missing touch from penalties, can’t be repeated against the All Blacks either.

Although wing Raymond Rhule probably had his best test match and put in more tackles than he usually does, the back three did look vulnerable in the aerial battle, with too many balls being spilt, and that is another area that the Bok coaches will need to look at.

All Black flyhalf Beauden Barrett is under pressure because of his poor place-kicking and spent much of the second half at fullback after Lima Sopoaga came onto the field at Yarrow Stadium, but he remains a threat with his cross-kicks.

With Coenie Oosthuizen flying home after suffering a broken arm, Coetzee will be without one of his most hard-working forwards in Albany. Oosthuizen got through a mountain of work in Perth, particularly on defence. In Stormers prop Wilco Louw though the Boks have a powerful scrummager to consider as an option and it will be interesting to see how that selection goes this week.

Of course Trevor Nyakane backed up Oosthuizen in the last two tests and Ruan Dreyer is also with the squad, and there should be reluctance to mess with the scrum units that have been working together for several weeks, but Louw does present an interesting option. The All Blacks will provide the Bok scrum with its toughest examination to date.


New Zealand 39 Argentina 22

Australia 23 South Africa 23


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