‘EXCEPTIONAL” – the word used by Springbok management on Sunday, in summing up the team’s defensive effort in the 21-10 win over Scotland on Saturday. And how spot-on they are.
Jean de Villiers’ team were forced to make 145 tackles over the course of the 80 minutes, the majority coming in the last 30 minutes when the Scots were rampant. De Villiers’ men missed only seven of those tackles. Scotland had to make just 64, missing 10.
It wasn’t the prettiest of victories but who cares when the last time the Springboks were at Murrayfield, in 2010, they lost, and let’s not forget the Boks are currently missing several first choice players.
Sure, there is plenty of work still to be done by this Bok team, but when, with half a first choice team, you’re able to win in Dublin and follow that up with a win in Edinburgh things can’t be too bad. It is now two out of two for Meyer and his Boks – and a third straight win against England at Twickenham on Saturday would make this European tour a very successful one indeed.
After what has been a very trying year for Meyer, with so little time to work with a bunch of players he is now only starting to really know and understand, and considering how many men he’s lost to injury, Saturday’s victory at Murrayfield was huge – and mightily satisfying for all concerned.
While the victory was set up in the first 40 minutes, what actually won the Boks the game in the end was their outstanding defensive effort in the second spell. And it was this aspect of the Boks’ game – they pretty much spent the last 30 minutes camped in their own 22m area, making tackle after tackle after tackle – that saw them through, after changing sides 14-3 to the good.
“Defence comes from within,” said captain De Villiers about the effort from his team in keeping Scotland out in the final half-hour.
“It’s not something that gets coached. The attitude one shows in defence is the same attitude one has for the team. The guys just didn’t give up… they kept their heads up until the very end.
“A lot was said of Scotland scoring three tries in the previous match against the All Blacks… well they scored only one against us and that was from a set move [from a line-out]. We kept them out for 30 minutes.”
Vice-captain Adriaan Strauss called the effort from his forwards the best he’d experienced. “Being in our own half for so long in the second period meant the guys had to put up their hands, and didn’t they do that? I haven’t seen a forward pack with that much character in a long time. The guys made massive hits, they kept getting up from off the floor, and they kept working hard for each other.
“It was not a great secondhalf performance from us, but the character shown in defence was outstanding.”
The Boks dominated the first half, with Strauss scoring a great try after a forwards drive, while the pack again did what they do so well: bash the ball up and get the team on to the front foot. They dominated the line-outs and won the collisions and deservedly had full control of the match at half-time. In fact, after Strauss’ second try on 46 minutes, from an intercept, the Boks were well on their way to victory.
Scotland, however, scored through replacement Henry Pyrgos soon after Strauss’ touchdown and for the rest of the match they were the team who did the questioning.
“We’d built a nice innings and I thought tactically we were in control and ready to move on after half-time,” said Meyer. “But there was a big momentum shift after they scored their try, and we had to dig deep. We were under huge pressure, couldn’t get our hands on the ball and gave away too many penalties.
“We defended brilliantly and importantly there was no panic from the young guys. They displayed great composure and sometimes you have to grind out a win and I think we did that on this occasion.”
The Boks didn’t maintain their dominance or control for the full 80 minutes again, which will be a concern, but the fact they defended like they did, for so long, was, perhaps more important in the greater scheme of things. For it is in testing times such as those they experienced at Murrayfield which will benefit the side more than simply clobbering the Scots. – The Star