With the Rugby Championship at an end, Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuizen sums up the Boks’ performances.
There are really not too many things to be excited about, even if Heyneke Meyer believes there were plenty of positives to come out of the competition. The performance of the young pack was impressive at times, especially against the All Blacks, home and away, while the set-piece accuracy was also encouraging. Most pleasing though, of the six matches, was the emergence of a number of young stars who showed they are up to playing at Test level, while at the same time Meyer has built good depth, something that will only stand the Boks in good stead in future.
As good as some of the youngsters have been, their inexperience – and lack of discipline at times – was costly throughout the competition.
Impatience and an inability to hang on to the ball for longer periods hurt the Boks in several of their games, while the injury toll was telling throughout the competition. Without key players in key positions, the Boks’ defence came unstuck at times, while the aimless kicking – or is that poor competing for the ball in the air – didn’t do the Boks any good anywhere.
Now if the tactical kicking was bad, the goal-kicking was horrendous and it was certainly very ugly at times. Unfortunately the Boks missed a wonderful chance to win in Dunedin against the All Blacks, but several missed kicks at goal meant the world champions stayed on course to set a new record for consecutive wins. It wasn’t only in that game that the kicking was horrible, but pretty much throughout the competition. Dean Greyling’s elbow to the face of Richie McCaw was also an ugly incident, something that definitely doesn’t belong in the game.
There weren’t too many, were there now? Sure, the Boks kicked off their challenge with a good win against Argentina, but their performance of the competition came at Loftus against the injury-hit Wallabies. The Boks pretty much dominated proceedings throughout and scored some wonderful tries; the win taking the pressure off Meyer.
South Africa would soon realise though that the Boks were far from hitting peak form as they came unstuck against a much better equipped and skilful team in New Zealand a week later.
The Low Point
Following on from the above, the lowest point of the last six Tests wasn’t the draw in Mendoza against Argentina – even though that was a pretty shocking showing by the Boks – it was the performances against New Zealand, in both Tests. The Boks were superior to their opponents in Dunedin and should have won the game; poor goal-kicking being their downfall, while at FNB Stadium on Saturday, the Boks again had the better of Richie McCaw and his men and led 10-0 at one stage, but conceded 20 unanswered second half points to lose for the second time against the world champions this season, when they should have won.
As disappointing as the Rugby Championship has been for the Boks, they look to be a side that, when they click, they’re going to be very good. There’s a good blend of youth and experience and, with several other injured players set to return in time for the European trip next month and next year, Meyer will have a far larger pool to pick from in 2013. The experience being gained by the youngsters – five of whom are still 21 and younger – will be invaluable going forward and the more the players play together, the more settled the combinations will become.
South Africa’s tight-five was good throughout the competition, with the locks, and especially Eben Etzebeth, standing out. Francois Louw’s addition to the squad halfway through the competition had a big impact, while Duane Vermeulen returning from injury to earn his first Bok caps boosted the loose-trio. The emergence of Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies as the future Bok No 10s was pleasing, while Jean de Villiers continued to impress as team captain. The standout player though was veteran wing Bryan Habana who is back to his very best.