CAPE TOWN - A lot can be said about the Springboks’ record defeat to the All Blacks in Albany at the weekend.
There was the promising opening quarter performance by the Boks that quickly regressed into a painful slide all the way down to 57-0. There was the fact that some players in the Bok team are just not up to standard and that others would be better used in a different position. There were the torrid Bok scrums in the second half and the terrible lineouts in the first. There was the New Zealanders’ seemingly innate ability to perform for a full 80 minutes. And so you can go on and on.
But there was also the complete mismatch in the skills department.
Now, the Kiwis’ skill level is something that is nothing new, and yapping about that would probably get a bit redundant. A bit old. After all, we all know that the All Blacks’ skill set is one of their greatest strengths, an arsenal that is shared equally, and impressively, by backs and forward alike.
But one thing that makes the world leaders’ skill set even more potent is the speed at which they are able to execute it. How quickly they are able to react. And on Saturday, when the Boks endured their worst-ever defeat, that quick execution and the reaction they showed in various game situations was one of the things that contributed greatly to those 57 points.
I have always admired the men in black for how quickly, yet thoroughly, they do things on the field. And there are a lot of examples that can be taken from the Bok disaster at the QBE Stadium.
Look back to the opening try by wing Rieko Ioane.
That five-pointer was fantastic, and it was set up by scrumhalf Aaron Smith’s snappy vision and a brilliant left-foot kick. Smith reacted with lightening quickness from a penalty and took the quick tap before booting an accurate kick into space for Ioane to chase. And all of that was done while the Boks were still trying to patch up their defensive line. The key there? The speed at which it was done. The situation was scoped out quickly, the reaction was just as quick. It’s hard to defend against that. And it didn’t end there. It never does.
You have a penalty on halfway, do you:
A) Go for touch
B) Go for a shot at goal
C) Do what Aaron Smith does pic.twitter.com/LDDgIL71ZR
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 19, 2017
Throughout the match, we saw the same kind of quick reaction at the lineouts, at the breakdowns, and in every little kick-pass, intercept and spell of attacking interplay.
The All Blacks cleared the ball from the base of the ruck quickly, as they always do. They did that without Smith first endlessly gazing to his left and his right while gripping the ball in a lateral squat position as if better attacking options will magically pop up with every turn of his head.
The All Blacks reacted fast - all the time. There was no unnecessary back and forth strolling. They made good decisions, quickly. And the same can be said about their reaction to those decisions.
That is something that the Boks need. They need to work on their reaction time in different situations. And that will take time. It will take time to learn to react quicker. It will take time to not only react quickly, but also to make the right decisions, quickly.
But to get the ball from the ruck to the awaiting attacking line quickly or to get the ball in and out of the lineout at speed shouldn’t take years to achieve. The Boks need the right personnel to do it. More importantly, they need to want to do it. It’s a mind set.
And it’s a mind set that can only do the Boks well. The quicker they can react, the better they can put opposition teams under pressure.
They might not be able to do it as well, or as quickly as the All Blacks anytime soon, but any improvement in reaction time will be better than nothing.