I love this time of year when the Southern Hemisphere teams travel north to compete against their Northern counterparts. Argentina hammered the Bok slaying Brave Blossoms of Japan 54-20 in Tokyo. The Maori All Blacks smashed the USA 54-7 in Chicago which I was quite surprised with.I thought the US Eagles would have been better. Then Australia played very very well against Wales in Cardiff to win 32-8. The shock of the weekend was Ireland’s fantastic performance at Soldier Field in Chicago, can you believe it, after 111 years of tests between New Zealand and Ireland , Ireland beat the All Blacks 40-29 for the first time. Maybe this puts into perspective the results and performances of the Sprinboks in their series against Ireland earlier this year.
The game I was waiting for all week was the Sprinboks vs the Barbarians at Wembley in London. In the build up to this game Springbok coach Allister Coetzee had said the Springboks would not be playing Barbarians style rugby but Pat Lambie, Springbok captain for the Baabaa’s game, was talking about attack. I really don’t feel confident when the coach and the captain don’t seem to be on the same page.
The game itself was entertaining and exciting right to the end. I am concerned after the 31-31 draw. The South African set pieces were far superior to the Barbarians set piece. The Barbarians lineout in particular was not working. This is understandable for a scratch team. Once the setpiece which is basically a means used to get the game started again is over, what happens from there on was a problem for the Boks but for the Barbarians this is where they excelled.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Francois Venter especially and Jamba Ulengo and Sergeal Petersen looked good on attack for the Boks but the defence looked below average. The organisation, the synchronicity, the urgency was not there in the Bok defence. With Sergeal Petersen who had the unenviable task of facing Taqele Naiyavoro giving away 40 kg to the big winger. Sergeal came up short on the one on one tackles when Naiyavoro just swatted him aside and Melani Nanai the Barbarians fullback also had a go at running right through Sergeal’s attempted tackle. Sergeal just does not meet the physicality requirements of this level of rugby. It can be improved with better technique because he does have the courage.
The press defence was all at sea, RjvR would shoot up out of the line. He may be used to a quicker press than his backline teammates but buy shooting out of the line he creates a dog leg, the opening any opposition would be looking for. RjvR when in the right place makes his tackles, he also works very hard on cover defence and scramble defence but the mid-field looked porous due to the press not coming up in a line.
When I coach a team it is always the flyhalf that leads the press and the speed of the press is down to him and the other players must show the discipline to follow what he sets. Aha! There might lie the problem! Pat Lambie was the guy that should have been leading a fast press but he wasn’t and he as many flyhaves do got run over a couple of times.
Jamba Ulengo does seem to get caught out of position in defence and on occasion was trying to tackle too high. He did exceptional work to track back to collect Andy Ellis’s chip kick. His clearing kick under extreme pressure went straight into the hands of the giant winger Naiyavoro.
On attack however all these players except for Lambie looked really good. Sergeal scored his try by going wide and running with the ball in two hands he kept two big forwards guessing . Is he going to pass? Or isn’t he? While they were trying to work it out Sergeal accelerated through the gap and used his pace to get over untouched.
Jamba Ulengo looks very dangerous going forward he has great pace, can step, is physically imposing and is strong. AC has kept him with the squad which is reward for good work.
South Africans love an inside centre that can smash into the defence and get over the gainline. I heard in commentary Stuart Barnes (the ex England flyhalf) say that RjvR has a bit of Danie Gerber about him. I saw Danie Gerber in action at Newlands stadium when I was in Cape Town on a school rugby tour back in 1992. Even though it was near the end of Danie’s playing career he was still very good. Danie could smash it up if he had to, which he had to do quite often but Danie had an excellent skill set. He created opportunities for the players outside him, he passed well, he stepped well and he ran great lines. I agree with Stuart Barnes about RjvR being similar to the Springbok legend Danie Gerber but I don’t think Barnes has seen the full range of what RjvR can do. We only saw a few of his abilities. I think this young man will one day become a great Springbok, he plays to honour the Springbok top.
Pat Lambie drifts across the pitch on attack taking away all the space of his outside backs as they concertina against the touchline. His main party trick is his show and go which is not that effective. When you don’t know what else to do then you’ll hoist a high bomb and hope it works.He had a difficult kick to win the game or at least go ahead at that point and he missed. I haven’t seen the outcry from the many Springbok supporters saying that he has no BMT like they would have if Elton Jantjies was the kicker.
AC commented that he was really impressed with the centres RjvR and Francois Venter. Myself and many Bok supporters noticed how good these guys were about six months ago. By saying that I am not filled with hope I am very nervous that it has taken him this long to notice.
Armand van der Merwe and Robert du Preez were the best players out of both teams in their respective positions. Why? Because they were playing to a decent gameplan with players around them that understood that gameplan and the team is being coached by a very good coach.
What worries me is that the Barbarians were made up of South African, Kiwi and Aussie 3rd or 4th choice players. There preparation amounted to 6 hours of training and as most Baabaa teams do to get to know one another, they go out and get drunk, the Baabaas preparation was more about socialising than rugby ability. If the Bok set-piece wasn’t so dominant then the Boks would have been soundly beaten.
AC rightly identified that the Boks lost the collisions and the battle of the breakdown. The attack depends on these two facets but before you even get to that you need to win set-piece. I think Eddie Jones knows where to hit SA where it hurts. The Boks have chosen suspect tight-head props which could be a crack that the English will try force open.