JOHANNESBURG – If the Springboks are to make it seven wins in a row against France in Paris on Saturday, they are going to have to be far more clinical in finishing off the chances they create than was the case last weekend at Twickenham.
While Rassie Erasmus’s team did everything right against England to start their northern hemisphere tour on a winning note, their finishing cost them as they went down 12-11.
In fact, at half-time, having enjoyed 78 percent territory and 67 percent possession and England reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes, the Boks should have just about been home and dry.
But they didn’t capitalise on their strong position and after 80 minutes had scored only one try. The last time the Boks failed to score on more than one occasion in 80 minutes was against the same England team in June in South Africa. Then, in the first Test in Joburg, the Boks scored four tries, but in the subsequent Tests in Bloemfontein and Cape Town, Erasmus’s team only managed one per game.
In the Rugby Championship, having settled under the new coach, they scored 17 tries in six matches, and never less than two per game.
And while Tests against France in recent years have been far from the free-flowing affairs of yesteryear, Erasmus will want an improved effort this weekend.
Of course, it didn’t help that the Boks battled on their attacking line-out close to the England line last weekend - something which will hopefully have been sorted out in the last few days - while the arrival this week of the more dynamic Faf de Klerk is also sure to boost the team’s nippiness around the scrums, rucks and mauls.
De Klerk wasn’t available for the England game and while Ivan van Zyl did little wrong in his first start, the former Lions player, who now plays for Sale in England, will bring a different energy to the side.
He was, after all, called “a little buzz-saw” by England boss Eddie Jones in June.
The availability of fullback Willie le Roux, who has become a key man in the Boks’ attacking game under Erasmus, will also give the team a greater attacking threat from deep.
While young Damian Willemse performed well at Twickenham, Le Roux’s experience and unpredictability was missed by the Boks last weekend.
The poor handling of last Saturday will also almost certainly be much improved this week, with the players, many of whom last played several weeks prior to last week’s Test, having shaken off the cobwebs.
Meanwhile, a small matter that has gone almost unnoticed about last weekend’s loss to England is the fact it was the first Test this year, and with Erasmus in charge, that the Boks didn’t concede a try.
All England’s points came via penalty kicks. In all 10 previous Tests this season the Boks conceded at least one try.