After a 26-10 win for South Africa over New Zealand in the Rugby Championship opener, here are our five takeaways from the Mbombela game.
The top line
Nelspruit provided a wonderful atmosphere and backdrop for the 101st friendly between South Africa and New Zealand, in which the hosts won convincingly.
The game played almost exactly as scripted, with Springbok’s set pieces, defense and aerial dominance proving far too strong for a toothless and tactically appalling New Zealand.
Simply put, the contrast between the chaos of the All Black game plan and the organization and efficiency of the Boks couldn’t be greater – it was men against boys.
Malcolm Marx celebrated his 50th Test match with a boisterous and brilliant match display player who saw four turnovers and 14 tackles in his 54 minutes on the court, along with five scrum penalties that he and his propping cohorts used through their power and technical excellence deserved .
With Lukhanyo Am delivering a performance reminiscent of a fourth-back and Jaden Hendrikse responding well to the departure of local hero Faf de Klerk in the first play of the game, South Africa will be delighted to score their first goal in the rugby championship and will have plenty of learning points from them too this game as they rebuild in preparation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Sam Cane commented after the game that it was “a small margin loss”. If he really believes that after a performance in which New Zealand were lucky enough to finish second, then one has to wonder if he’s just deflecting criticism or if he’s completely deluded.
Rarely has an All-Black team looked so lost in the Test arena.
In every area of the set piece, they lost the confrontation. In the collapse they were picked off for fun by Marx and his boets and completely outplayed in aerial combat and solidly overwhelmed on both offense and defense.
Sure, New Zealand have fought like the proud nation they are, but this has been a battle of individual desperation rather than cohesive defensive or offensive teamwork. The only plus they can take away is their line defence, which has improved a lot since the third test against Ireland, and they managed to focus on one system (ball observation) and not the hybrid mess we saw last month, but the problems of poor upper body binding instead of leg/binding at the mouth cost them dearly.
To make matters worse, the lack of any exit or push-off strategy, particularly in their own half, meant that South Africa owned 72% of the game’s territorial struggle, an absolutely stunning statistic.
This was a brave but disorganized side playing for their coach on Saturday – but based on what we’ve seen, one has to wonder what the coach is doing for the side that bravely eliminated for him.
South African rugby delivers what it promises. It’s not pretty, it’s not expansive, and it’s somewhat predictable – but its orchestration, delivery, and effectiveness are absolutely unparalleled.
The platforming provided by their pack’s brilliance at set pieces coupled with the dedication and timing of their kick chase make them a formidable squad. Simple things like the speed across the bottom of their lineup, the height their lifters reach, the speed of rush defense from their centers, the dominance Frans Malherbe achieves on a scrum hit — these add up to any defensive weakness to penetrate which the opposition might have.
At ruck time in the first half, the power of the Boks forwards ensured they used the bare minimum against four and five All Blacks, sometimes just two defenders. No attack can survive past the third or fourth jerk when they lose so many numbers associated with previous breakdowns and with jackals of the quality of Marx, Am and Kwagga Smith in their ranks who have the isolated carrier with a so Eliminate Big Deal Advantage is as easy as taking candy from a child.
A word also for winger Kurt-Lee Arendse; His day ended in disaster with absolute shock of an aerial challenge for Beauden Barrett, which landed entirely on his head and neck, an incident that would earn a lengthy suspension. But his clash was entirely due to his youthful exuberance and sheer determination – qualities which, until the red-card incident, underpinned a truly promising performance.
A black storm cloud of doom looms over New Zealand and head coach Ian Foster. This proud rugby nation does not condone failure of this kind and it is almost certain that his role is now utterly untenable. It’s almost unthinkable that a team of the caliber they possess would look so clueless as to how to play basic Test rugby. No exit strategy, no territorial emphasis, and absolutely no structure in any single facet of their game.
On the plus side (and there were a few, despite the general predicament), George Bower had a great game in the park, hitting 18 tackles and carrying well despite finishing second in the scrum. Ardie Savea and Akira Ioane had their moments, with the last part of some of the better Kiwi moves running out of breath. But the centre-back and midfield offered absolutely nothing – no control, no intellect and no plan. There is a serious problem on central defense as nobody is controlling the game or trying to gain momentum and territory and there are two shades of direct but outspoken running in the centers that didn’t bother South Africa in the slightest.
Make no mistake – these are not skill issues – they are coaching and tactical issues and New Zealand must now accept that Cane and Foster’s races as leaders are finally over.
It is often said that there is more to be gained from a win than from a loss.
With de Klerk leaving for South Africa so early, they lost a bit of variety from the scrum half – the kicks and snipes that are the hallmark of his well-rounded game, despite Hendrikse’s dedicated efforts. De Klerk is the X Factor man who makes such a big difference in try-scoring opportunities and it’s hoped he gets back to green and gold as soon as possible.
In attack we again saw a fairly lateral and predictable defensive line. At no point in the game did the Boks attempt to switch and come back on a line to attack the defender’s inside shoulder – everything was run around the corner, allowing New Zealand to defend the width of the field. Damian Willemse may be a brilliant defensive full-back (and some of his work on defense in this game was exceptional), but he’s no close to the attacking rapier that Willie le Roux is, especially given Le Roux’s ability to counter the attack grain and to that inner shoulder. Combine this approach with the lumbering handling of the otherwise impressive Damian de Allende and the room for improvement is pretty obvious.
However, when a team is as dominant in other areas as the Boks, they go into every game knowing their superpowers will deliver. As the rugby championship progresses they will be looking to improve their attacking threat, tinker with their staff and from their outstanding performance in the game they look like their road to peak form is absolutely on the right track.
CONTINUE READING: Rugby Championship: Clinical Springboks draw first blood against All Blacks
The article Rugby Championship: Five Takeaways from South Africa vs New Zealand as Storm Clouds About Ian Foster and Sam Cane first appeared on Planetrugby.com.