For all their dominance in the stats, the Springboks came up short where it really mattered – on the scoreboard – against England at Twickenham.
A lack of ingenuity on attack had a lot to do with it. Kicking a penalty into touch for a lineout when England were reduced to a seven-man pack after Maro Itoje’s yellow card was one such instance, as a scrum would’ve been a better bet.
Of course, Malcolm Marx missing his lineout jumpers four times on attack didn’t help matters either, but there were enough other opportunities for the Boks to have scored more than just Sbu Nkosi’s lone try.
Apart from Lood de Jager’s knock-on after about 20 phases of sensational ball-carrying from the Boks late in the game, the South Africans looked to rather force their way through the English defence rather than around them.
Flank Duane Vermeulen and locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit were at the heart of those efforts, and centre Damian de Allende used his power and poise to punch holes in the England back division.
But then Rassie Erasmus’ team needed some silky touches to finish off, and it wasn’t forthcoming. In addition, the Boks also didn’t set themselves up for a last-gasp drop goal to snatch victory from a 12-11 deficit.
They cannot afford to lose a game they should’ve won again on Saturday night when they take on France in Paris (10.05pm SA time kickoff), and De Allende said on Tuesday that they are taking steps to fix the problems on attack.
“We are focusing on ourselves and where we can rectify the mistakes we made against England, so that we can improve and play better against France,” the Stormers powerhouse said at a press conference in the French capital.
“We are constantly working on making our combination (with centre partner Jesse Kriel) better, as well with the other players in the squad who also covers the midfield positions, and then also with our teammates on the outside of midfield.
“Our approach to the matches up in the northern hemisphere has also changed a bit because you have to respect the conditions in Europe and the way the game is played up here.
Bienvenue les @Springboks!! En vue du prochain #TestMatch qui les opposera à l'Equipe du #XVdeFrance #rugby samedi prochain au @StadeFrance les Sud-Africains ont choisi l'#INSEP pour leur stage de préparation. Et ça commence fort dès le matin #musculation 💪💪#LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/PDAErgh5WP
“We learnt a lot from the Test that we lost against England in Cape Town in June, in very wet conditions.
“I think we are getting there, and we are working on how to vary our game, so that we can constantly look for opportunities on the field.”
Erasmus has many more options to choose from this week, as European-based Boks such as Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk, Francois Louw and Franco Mostert are available.
They all missed the England Test as it was played outside the official World Rugby international window.
So, Erasmus will have some big calls to make when he names his team on Thursday, especially as Damian Willemse did well in his first Test start at fullback against England.