This was the first game in the 2015 RWC that at 20 minutes to go I wanted to get up and do something else. Out of all the games played in this years World Cup this one just never sparked into life. The second half descended into a bit of a farce.
We had Schalk Burger leave the field and wave goodbye to his fans after what could be his final test only to have to run back on as a temporary blood replacement for Francois Louw. When Schalk exited the field for the second time, to his credit, he made a show of giving a courteous bow.
We saw Handre Pollard lining up a kick at posts with the Springboks ahead 24-6 and less than 12 minutes to go, only for the crowd to start booing the Springboks for not being more adventurous. After that kick hit the upright and bounced back into play South Africa won another penalty about a minute later. This time the Boks kicked for the corner, only for Handre Pollard to mis-kick it straight into the hands of Matias Moroni, who cleared it downfield. The crowds booing caused the Springboks to kick for the corner rather than try a shot at posts again. Where is their resolve?
At 66 minutes into the game Jan Serfontein came on to replace Bryan Habana. Why didn’t they leave Habana on and sub JP Pietersen. At least give Bryan a chance of beating Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 World Cup tries. A record that Bryan now jointly holds with Jonah.
Before the game in the pre-match interviews both Heyneke Meyer and Victor Matfield hinted that the Springboks might open it up a bit. Did they? Not a chance. The Springboks played the strangulation game and spent long periods defending.
The Argentinians were trying to play with width but because they were losing the forward battle outright they were constantly attacking off static ball or off of the back foot. They showed attacking intent throughout the match and if they maintain that attitude they will eventually get it right.
South Africa’s intent was the same as it always is. There was not much attacking intent although when they did attack and use space the Springboks looked great. Like the JP Pietersen try. South Africa made 180 tackles compared to 100 tackles that Argentina made. If that is how South Africa choose to play they are never going to catch up with the teams that are prepared to attack.
Willie le Roux had an awful game, ex England prop David Flatman said in commentary that he looked like he was on a different wavelength to the rest of the team. Willie’s tactical kicking was poor. He tried to slap a ball on, early in the game, which may have cost Habana a try. He did make the pass for JP to score his try but even then Willie may have hung onto the ball too long before making the pass.
Willie has not had a good RWC. I think it is the coach that is at odds to how Willie likes to play rugby. In the Cheetahs game against the Bulls at the end of the Super 15, Franco Smith encouraged his team to be adventurous and try score tries. That is the environment that Willie thrives in. What I see under HM is that Willie feels stifled and frustrated and is unhappy.
In the end the Boks got the Bronze. Well done. That’s great. HM comes across as a really nice guy in all his interviews and is incredibly passionate about rugby and wants to contribute. Unfortunately his understanding of the game and the way in which he wants to play doesn’t win World Cups, doesn’t make you the best team in the world and sometimes has slip ups like losing to Japan, it isn’t that pleasant to watch, it’s just not that entertaining.
I hope this RWC has highlighted for South Africa the need to adapt and that with the correct coaching and correct attitude to change, that it is not impossible to start playing a better attacking game. Michael Cheika has done fantastically with the Wallabies, Vern Cotter has really turned Scotland around, Joe Schmidt has done good work with Ireland and Eddie Jones has done miraculous work with Japan. I think South Africa should ask John Mitchell to have a go at Springbok coach.