Comment: I can’t fathom why the Springboks started in such insipid fashion against All Blacks

Pieter Steph du Toit of South Africa is tackled during the Rugby Championship test match between New Zealand and South Africa played at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland

Pieter-Steph du Toit (pictured) is showing pleasing signs that he is building toward the form that made him the best player in the world four years ago. Picture: Michael Bradley/AFP

Published Jul 16, 2023


If this was not a World Cup year, the 35-20 defeat would hurt a great deal more because all of the Bok resources would have been focused on getting the win.

But this match was played as part of a two-week, split-squad system designed to get answers about players and to generate momentum toward France 2023.

You could say that more or less half of the objective has been achieved, and with four more games to be played before the Boks open their World Cup campaign – against Scotland on September 10 – there is sufficient time for ducks to be placed in their row.

In fact, it is when the Boks have their return fixture against the All Blacks in London on August 29 that we will have a better idea of what shape they are in.

Between now and that Twickenham date, the Boks play one more Rugby Championship game (Argentina at Ellis Park on July 29) and away friendlies against Argentina and Wales.

Looking at the game in Auckland, the irony is that the squad of players that travelled early to New Zealand to get over jet-lag were the ones who were leaden-footed.

In that first half an hour, the Boks looked rooted to the turf while the All Blacks, who had travelled a huge distance back from Argentina, were like 15 Usain Bolts at the Olympic 100m final.

I can’t fathom why the Boks started in such an insipid fashion. They know the All Blacks are the best starters in the game – the week before against the Pumas, they scored three tries in the opening 15 minutes – yet the Boks lacked urgency, and not just in their limbs.

They were dull-witted, too, giving away a procession of silly penalties.

A penalty is gift-wrapped possession, and when you are giving them to an All Black team on fire, it is like pouring racing fuel into a Formula 1 car.

A worrying negative was the All Blacks winning the aerial battle. The Boks were on top in this facet in the two matches last year, but not anymore. The Kiwis have improved and the Boks have gone backwards.

The way the Boks fought back from 17-0 and 23-3 is pleasing, although not surrendering is a given for a Springbok team.

In terms of individuals, the Bok bosses have learned plenty about the No 8 position over the last fortnight. Duane Vermeulen has shown he is far from finished, while poor Jasper Wiese’s old problem with his handling flared up brightly.

Pieter-Steph du Toit is showing pleasing signs that he is building toward the form that made him the best player in the world four years ago.

He is on an upward trajectory, and if he can recapture his 2019 form at the 2023 World Cup, that will be huge for the Boks.

Malcolm Marx was excellent, and it would be unfair if he is not given a start against the Pumas in the Boks’ next game.

The selection for that game in Johannesburg is going to be most interesting. It is likely to combine the stars of the Loftus rout of the Aussies with the better starters in Auckland.

For instance, you would think Kurt-Lee Arendse has done enough to take over from an ageing Makazole Mapimpi, and please let Manie Libbok start at flyhalf for Damian Willemse.

The latter must go back to fullback, and let’s have Willie le Roux playing off the bench.

IOL Sport

* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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