Cape Town – The Springboks arrived in Buenos Aires en route to Mendoza on Monday, probably not quite feeling as if they’ve just won a Test by 21 points.
They’ve lost talismanic hooker and vice-captain Bismarck du Plessis for the rest of the year to a knee-ligament injury, have had to call up two uncapped hookers for Saturday’s game against Argentina and come off a lacklustre 27-6 victory over Los Pumas at Newlands at the weekend.
Most importantly, they failed to score four tries and register a bonus point – something that could just be the difference between winning and losing the inaugural Rugby Championship. The All Blacks and Wallabies weren’t too flash either in Sydney earlier on Saturday, but they would not have huffed and puffed their way to victory over an ordinary Argentina side like the Boks did at Newlands.
There was the mitigating circumstance of losing Du Plessis after just four minutes, and while Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss produced a typically busy performance, he is no Bismarck. Also, this was the Boks’ first game since the third Test draw against England on June 23, so the team cohesion wasn’t always in place.
There were some good moments from flyhalf Morné Steyn, particularly with his goal-kicking; Andries Bekker was at his commanding best in the lineouts; wings Lwazi Mvovo and Bryan Habana were quick; and Zane Kirchner was safe under the high ball.
But that old Bok disease of kicking away hard-earned possession was evident at Newlands, with scrumhalf Francois Hougaard in particular sticking to coach Heyneke Meyer’s gameplan with a number of ineffective box kicks. Mvovo and Habana hardly got the ball, and instead had to chase kicks for most of the night. Meyer, though, didn’t think that the kicking was the problem for his team.
“In terms of not getting the four tries, I didn’t think that it was the kicking. I thought that we got into the right areas of the field. In the first half, every time we got there, we got points, and that was the whole plan – to build an innings and put the pressure on them,” the Bok coach said.
“I think the problem was when we got into the right areas, we kept the ball through two or three phases, and then we lost the ball at the breakdown. So, it wasn’t the kicking game – I thought it was much better. The problem was at the breakdown; we didn’t do the recycling that we wanted, and didn’t finish.
“The gameplan wasn’t that bad and we played the right game. We need to finish better. But they shoot out of line and their defence was awesome. We must give them credit for that.”
At least Meyer admitted that the bonus point should’ve been secured, especially with the Boks having scored their third try through Habana with 22 minutes left and having had several opportunities in the last quarter to get that fourth try.
“I would’ve loved to get four tries, but again, this is Test-match rugby. I was very happy with our defence, as we’ve worked hard on that and they didn’t score any tries. But I thought that we should’ve finished better once or twice, and go for the four tries,” he said. “But this team is still improving, and the guys put their bodies on the line, and I can’t ask for more than that.”
The Boks were efficient in the set pieces, with the scrum solid against the highly rated Argentina pack, while Strauss’s throwing at the lineouts was spot-on to find Bekker most of the time. The Boks also mauled quite well, although they would’ve been frustrated not to get over the line at the end.
But they only scored seven points in the second half, as the Boks were unable to deal with the spoiling tactics of Los Pumas and were scrappy with ball-in-hand. “We don’t want to make excuses! We also need to learn from this. In Super Rugby, it’s quicker and guys don’t compete as well at the breakdown,” Meyer said.
“We should’ve adjusted in the game, but all credit to them. We need to look at it, because it’s going to be tougher next week. We need to be more physical at the breakdown and we need to adjust, as they were all over us at the breakdown and probably didn’t roll away, and we didn’t handle that.”
The Boks, though, will know that Argentina offered very little on attack, with up-and-unders and pick-and-gos the order of the day. The All Blacks and Wallabies will certainly strike if they had to have as much quality possession as Argentina had at Newlands, so Meyer’s men have to be ruthless with ball-in-hand in Mendoza on Saturday.
Pumas captain Juan Fernandez Lobbe has already promised that the people of Mendoza will “go crazy next week” when the Boks come to town.
Meanwhile, Du Plessis is set to be out for up to eight months, with Sharks hooker Craig Burden called up to the 26-man squad that travelled to Argentina yesterday.
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Andries Bekker, Craig Burden, Pat Cilliers, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Dean Greyling, Juandré Kruger, Tiaan Liebenberg, Tendai Mtawarira, Jacques Potgieter, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe. Backs: Jean de Villiers (capt), JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak. – Cape Times