BLOEMFONTEIN – Well, two average teams went at it hammer and tongs and after an exciting, if not, exhilarating 80 minutes they couldn’t again be separated. And perhaps that is fitting.
The Springboks and Wallabies drew 23-23 in Perth three weeks ago, and they drew 27-27 again here on Saturday in their Rugby Championship encounter – neither side really deserving to be deemed better than the other.
The reality is there isn’t much separating these teams, with the All Blacks way out in front for class and ability, and Argentina at the back of the queue.
The result will not sit well with the bosses at the South African Rugby Union, and rightly so.
The Boks really should never struggle against the Wallabies at altitude, and during the course of the 80 minutes on Saturday, they were shown up badly as a team that want to play exciting, clinical, fast rugby, but are still some way off.
And next up are the All Blacks, and they’ll be rubbing their hands together in glee. If the Boks produce a similar type of performance as the one delivered here on Saturday night, it could again get messy, as it did in Albany just over two weeks ago.
The Boks may have produced a fun and entertaining performance, with the ball going through many hands over the 80 minutes, but it was by no means an effort to think they’ll rattle the team that put 57 past them in New Zealand.
Because while the lineouts were much improved from a few weeks ago, the Boks still have scrum issues, with Ruan Dreyer again heavily penalised on Saturday.
There were also again huge holes in the defensive line, and only the Wallabies’ inability to finish off all their chances prevented them from scoring more tries.
That said, the Boks also butchered a good number of opportunities, especially in the second half when they had actually dominated most of the play, and failed to score when they could have.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies was hero and villain. He knocked over a 50-metre penalty in the 70th minute to draw his team level at 27-27, but then missed a far easier kick in the 80th minute which would have won the game for the Boks had it sailed through the uprights. It was the flyhalf’s only missed kick of the night.
With Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Tendai Mtawarira and Franco Mostert doing the bulk of the carrying upfront, and Francois Louw being a real presence at the breakdowns, the Bok backs flourished at times with all the ball that came their way.
Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Dillyn Leyds, Jesse Kriel and Jan Serfontein all put in big efforts, but as dangerous as they were with ball-in-hand, they also slipped off tackles on a good number of occasions.
Israel Folau, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani and Kurtley Beale had a field day at times running at the Boks, something the All Blacks will also do this weekend. They’ll just be more clinical.
So while Allister Coetzee’s team appeared to make a step up – in intensity, speed of play and opportunities created – it needs to be remembered they still made elementary mistakes.
Coetzee will be desperate to get a tighthead prop involved who doesn’t give away penalties, and he’ll also want Marx to make sure that he hits his man in the lineouts every time.
And, defensively, there is still plenty of work to be done.
It was a fun and entertaining Bok performance... but sadly, it didn’t translate into a victory.
The All Blacks, as they did just over two weeks ago, will again be the side that will tell us where the Boks actually are in their development.
South Africa 27 – Tries: Ruan Dreyer, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Australia 27 – Tries: Israel Folau, Marika Koroibete (2). Conversions: Bernard Foley (3). Penalties: Foley (2).