Heyneke Meyer has started his coaching era with a win. Not a pretty win, not a convincing win, but a win nevertheless. With this initial monkey off of his back, we live in hope that he learns from this test a number of very clear points:
1) Kirchner is no Lambie
It’s as simple as when running the ball up, making the most of the space and creating opportunities for the players around you. When Lambie came on at 44 minutes, the game was in the balance and his contributions definitely helped us to win. Kirchner is solid and didn’t let the team down, but we were struggling to create opportunities to score. Suddenly there were opportunities and de Villiers took one very well for that critical try.
2) Morne Steyn has a sell-by date and it is fast approaching
His usual flawless kicking displays have been erratic this year. It started last year and it’s continuing this year. Without that huge point in the positives column, the negative points stop grumbling and start shouting. He took a well worked try this weekend, but that was a result of pressure and power rugby.
Lambie is there, Jantjies presents interesting opportunities at 10, but the truth is that anyone is merely a place-holder waiting for Goosen to recover from shoulder surgery.
3) The Boks are still short of the other antipodeans
The Wallabies have the skills, but the All Blacks have the skills and power. It was an object lesson to see the All Blacks probe for the weak point in the Irish defense, uncover it in the poor positional play of their 14 and then ruthlessly exploit it again and again. The poor bugger got caught in no-mans land 3 times with Dagg pulling him in time and again, releasing Savea on the outside. Savea did well to finish the opportunities, but it was a masterclass by Dagg who was back to his unbelievable best.
Heyneke needs to realize that we must exploit all 3 types of offensive plays with ball in hand: the hard-yards pick and go style of forward play where you count the gain-line gains in inches, the power rugby where the ball-carriers run onto the ball at pace to break the first or even second tackle to rapidly advance the gain-line near the point of the contact and then spreading the ball wide to create overlaps and space amongst the back-line.
We always hear talk of “you have to earn the right to spread the ball wide” and this is true, you use the other types of plays to suck in enough defenders around the fringes of the contact point to pull the defensive line out of shape or allow you to let your game-breakers either take the man on one-on-one or to break the line of defense by having it being distorted enough through inside play.
Jean de Villiers is the master of creating space on the inside for other players outside him to have a half-gap to exploit.
Fransie Steyn did the same on saturday, taking 3 defenders out with one run. He’s looking really good at inside and if that pop pass to Alberts had worked we’d be calling him “our Sonny Bill”.
Alberts was a beast, with huge runs, great defense and 2 almost links to score the try: one with Fransie and one with Hougaard. The Hougaard link is the one I am looking for: this is the Queensland Reds style play where Genia gets Higginbotham or Samo away. Hougaard is more like Genia than du Preez and we would do well to watch how Link coaches Genia and use Hougaard similarly. If we force him to play de Preez’s game we will all be frustrated that he cannot do it as well as Fourie.
Habana was the terrier of old, harassing the defender under the high ball and sprinting and weaving between plodding English defenders that would have had my Dad bellowing “Get him down!” He was brilliant on saturday and took on all the responsibility you would hope as a senior Bok. Bryan Habana will go down with the other Bok great wings of all eras: the Carel du Plessis Ray Mordt and now Habana.
But (and it’s big) we need to be able to both cre-hate (thanks Naas) the opportunities and exploit them when “it is on”. The real difference between the AB’s and the Boks , aside from Steyn not kicking the opportunities, is that we need back line players that exploit the space cre-hated (thanks again Naas) on the inside by strong running. Crash the ball, run destructively at pace in channel 1,2, and 3 and then dazzle with the outside players in the space that they crave. Dagg, Smith and and Williams did this masterfully for the AB’s allowing the wings to finish. Let’s start selecting players like Aplon and de Jongh who are great at this.
Let’s look at ratings of the 22:
1) Beast (7.5) – No bullocking runs, but did everything else extremely well. Thought the penalty against him was harsh, but got stuck in and dominated the much vaunted English scrum.
2) Bismark (8) – Lost one line out on our throw, but for the rest of it was seen to be amicably chatting to Walsh about the steal, was huge come scrum time and kept any Englishman honest that came near him.
3) Dr Doop (7) – A 7 for Jannie is actually a 10. He didn’t get pinged, didn’t put anyone into a headlock, didn’t flop over the ball on the wrong side. In fact he did very little wrong.
4) Eben Ysterbeth (7) – A stern test as his first outing as a Bok. The best of the English against the Terminator from Parow. Was bustling in the tight at the bottom of all the rucks and kept any flash around the fringes buttoned down. An honest, hard-working debut.
5) Juandre Kruger (8) - Was very impressed with his running of the line outs in his debut test too. Was targeted by the English as the go-to man in the line outs and levelly switched it up to get the ball to Spies as the 3rd jumper.
6) Marcel Coetzee (6) – Did nothing wrong, but without a Brussow we barely contested their ball in the first half. Tackled everything, made a couple of runs, will get better with time.
7) Willem Alberts (10) – Holy strontium balls, but Alberts was great. If Peter de Villiers had a bit more sway with the team and he had benched Smit and Spies for the QF I believe that we would have met the All Blacks in the semi. Alberts ran well, tackled well and almost linked up with Hougaard for a phenomenal try.
8) Pierre Spies (5.5) – Great line out option, but for such an impressive physical specimen I’d like to have seen him do more with the ball in hand. I don’t really know if the man has a great rugby brain or not. You’d think that playing wing at school level would give him an understanding of space and having seen him cover the high ball more than once the guy can kick the leather off of the ball. Maybe he slims down and provides cover on the bench for 8,11,13 and 14? He certainly does not suit the close-combat style of power rugby that Heyneke is wanting to play.
9) Francois Hougaard (5) – The English hassled him regularly on his box kicking, much more so than in Super Rugby. Had he linked well with Alberts and scored the try we would be calling it a “barn-storming” performance. Needs time to gel with his loose-forwards and needs to test the fringe defense with runs as well as kicks. Unforgivable rush to the head though to take a tap and go in front of the posts while the Boks were within 7.
10) Morne Steyn (6.5) – Well taken try, crashed over after a show and go. Needs to get his head back into his kicking routine. Really good take on a wicked bouncing ball, but needs to offer more when taking on the line.
11) Bryan Habana (9) – Class is permanent, form is temporary. On form and just awesome.
12) Fransie “The Kid” Steyn (7.5) – Good defense, covered JdV the once that Tuilagi bust a tackle and did really well to draw defenders in in the midfield. One up on Barritt.
13) Jean de Villiers (8.5) - Really really good. Did not look out of place at 13. Knows that he is not in the long term plans of Heyneke, but still bleeding for his country and leading the team. 2 great moments were his well-taken try and beating Ashton man-on-man from a standing start.
14) JP Pietersen (5) – Was very quiet, committed his defender and passed to JdV, didn’t miss any tackles, but by his high standards was very quiet.
15) Zane Kirchner (5) – Sideshow Bob was dependable, kicked a good touch-finder, but never did anything above the competent and at international level against the best in the world you need someone who does more.
16) Adriaan Strauss (8) – Part of a second half performance that will put the rest of the world on notice that the Bok scrum is coming to eat you alive. Was part of a colossal scrum that regained possession at a critical time.
17) Coenie “Poesklap” Oosthuizen (8) – CJ who? Can conceivably cover both sides of the scrum it seems. Also really strong in the tight, was seen over the ball trying to recover possession and slow their ball down.
18) Flip vd Merwe (7) – Came on and added some steel to the last 20 minutes in the tight, when others might be flagging. Etsebeth looked quite miserable that he was coming off, but did nothing wrong and I’m quite happy to see him managed like that. Flippie played well and could maybe start the next test with Kruger.
19) Keegan Daniel (?) – Not fair to rate him considering he was on for so short, but I’d like to see him on earlier next week to run at flagging defenses.
20) Ruan Pienaar (7.5) - Played really well in the second half and led the closing out of the game from the base of the ruck. Incredibly fast service, picking out first, second and third channel at will, good kicking, great awareness. Made one mistake from the base of the ruck to mar an otherwise flawless performance.
21) Pat Lambie (8) – Lambie needs to be on the field. He is class.
22) Wynand Olivier (?) – Was on and off several times and did very little when he came on. not fair to rate him.
I thought were really good, they contested for the ball well on the ground, targeting our rucks very successfully in the first half. Their back-line has pace and power and on one occasion made a good mid-field break. Scrum-wise they took a pounding and their strategy of targeting Kruger in the line out did not work when he switched the play to Spies.
Overall a very good performance from a team that is rebuilding. There are some young players that looked really good and I feel for their fullback Brown who was really busy and kicked excellently, but is now out of the rest of the tour.