Would Argentina have run the All Blacks and Wallabies that close away from home in such horrid conditions as we saw at Loftus?
No way. And therein lays the problem for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. A lot of the good work of the past 18 months was undone in the rain and hail in Pretoria on Saturday night.
Of course, I can just imagine how bad the conditions were, with torrential downpours making it almost impossible to put any meaningful backline moves together.
But some of the problems that the Boks experienced on the night were of their own doing. Meyer took a few major selection gambles that were avoidable. Even if it was clear at Loftus, Morné Steyn would’ve been a better bet to start at flyhalf.
As I have said before, Handré Pollard is a fine player and will become a star in time, but he is not yet ready to start a high-stakes Rugby Championship match and would’ve been better served coming off the bench for the last 25 minutes or so once the game had been won.
Meyer said before the Test that he is looking for a back-up to Steyn, so that is exactly what Pollard should’ve been instead of having to wear the No 10 jersey. Of course the difficult conditions made it even tougher for Pollard, who had a forgettable night after a couple of mistakes and wasn’t able to impose himself on the game.
And how could the Boks go into the game without a recognised No 5 lock who is known for his lineout prowess? The injury situation around Victor Matfield is unclear at the moment, but he is out of this weekend’s Test, so who is his back-up? Poor Lood de Jager was thrown into the deep end and asked to organise the Bok lineout, with help from Duane Vermeulen, when that is not even his job for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby!
Matfield is 37 now, and needs to be managed carefully if he is going to get through to next year’s World Cup in England. So a specialist No 5 should’ve been picked, even if it meant bringing back Franco van der Merwe from Ireland or Juandré Kruger from France.
While both lack a bit of physicality, they are proven lineout jumpers and will be good in that primary area, at least until Pieter-Steph du Toit returns from injury next year. And that would allow De Jager and Eben Etzebeth to concentrate on being front locks.
It was a bit disingenuous for Meyer to say afterwards, in trying to provide mitigating circumstances for the below-par performance, that the Boks had “a 20-year-old at flyhalf and a 21-year-old running the lineouts”.
If he deems them good enough to start a Test match, then their age and lack of experience should not be highlighted when there were other, more seasoned options available.
The late withdrawal of Willem Alberts was an untimely disruption to the loose trio, but Marcell Coetzee didn’t make much of an impact as he is not a blindside flank.
I understand that Juan Smith was struggling with a hamstring problem as well, so the next-in-line was Oupa Mohoje, and if he’s in the squad, he should be trusted to start.
Mohoje is a classical blindsider – a strong ball-carrier and a good lineout option – while we all know that Coetzee is a scavenger on the ground who makes a lot of tackles. He was hardly seen as a No 7 on Saturday.
And how could the Boks allow an Argentinian pack to boss them around in the physical exchanges and scrums, especially in such weather conditions where the forwards had to take charge? It was disturbing to see how the likes of Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, as well as Bakkies Botha, were unable to suppress the belligerent Los Pumas forwards.
Also, the selection of Damian de Allende at outside centre didn’t make much sense. He was one of the better Stormers players in Super Rugby, but was he a better outside centre than the Sharks’ S’bura Sithole or even Paul Jordaan?
He wasn’t, because he never played there for the Stormers. What made it worse, apart from the appalling weather conditions, was the fact that De Allende hadn’t played any rugby since the end of May due to injury. So he had to make his Test debut in a totally new position after not having played for two-and-a-half months …
Meyer’s refusal to pick a specialist outside centre such as Sithole or Juan de Jongh, who was again in top form for Western Province at the weekend, could come back to bite the Boks. If anything, if he wants to give De Allende a chance, then it should be at No 12, as De Villiers is capable of fulfilling the No 13 berth.
The entire Bok pack let Meyer down at Loftus, and they owe the coach and the backline a big performance in Salta this weekend. No pussyfooting around anymore – win the scrums and lineouts, stop the Argentinian maul and get the Bok maul going, and impose yourselves at the breakdown.
It became too messy at Loftus, and that is exactly how the Argentinians like it. A scrappy game gives them a sniff, and they nearly clinched a draw.
The Springboks have to come out on Saturday and prove whether they can be worthy challengers to the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship crown. If they don’t, then don’t bother getting your hopes up for their date with the All Blacks in Wellington on September 13 …
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@BreytonPaulse: Now that WP stopped the scoring,Was really pleased with the way they’ve played,very attackminded,attitude on defence=ruthless!Now for Lions!
WHO TO FOLLOW
@WarrenWhiteley: The Golden Lions captain and No 8 has been called up to the Springbok squad for Saturday’s Test against Argentina.
w Follow me on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed