Stand-out stats from NZ-Bok epic
I’m not a big number cruncher (ask my long suffering accountant), but there were a few stats that really stood out from Saturday's epic struggle between the All Blacks and the Springboks in Dunedin.
The first one was obvious. The goal kicking.
The Springboks could only land two of nine. Having lived through the agony of South African sides kicking the ABs off the park in the 1970 and 1976 series (it also happened in 1949, but I was definitely not around then) I never thought I would live to see the day when they missed so many goals.
Break it down, and two of those shots were long range attempts by Frans Steyn and another by Johan Goosen, so they are not as galling as the four missed by Morne Steyn.
I don’t know what has happened to MS, but he is a shadow of the guy who caned the All Blacks in 2009. There have been murmurings of strange drafts and breezes inside the Dunedin Stadium, but the reality is he was not striking the ball well off the tee, and with all due respect to his past achievements, if the guy can’t kick his goals then he’s not much use to the team, because he’s not a great defender, and he plays too deep to ignite a backline.
The other stat that shocked me was “kicks in play” or “kicks out of hand”. One source had the Al Blacks kicking the ball 24 times to the Springboks 27; another had the ABs kicking 37 times to South Africa’s 28.
I’m not sure how two statisticians could have such conflicting numbers for the same thing, but either way it showed that the All Blacks kicked the ball as much as the Boks.
And yet watching the game I’d have sworn they wouldn’t have been even close.
Because they were kicking the ball for no real gain it just seemed like the Boks were kicking a whole lot more.
It just underlines what a loss Fourie du Preez has been, because he was a great kicker of the ball, and always gave his side a chance of getting it back, a disciple of the old adage, “kick to land, not to hand”.
Whereas the Boks kicked a lot down the middle, the All Blacks were happy to put the ball into touch, because even if they couldn’t disrupt the South African lineout or steal the ball they knew there was a fair chance it would be air mailed straight back to them.
And one last stat of note. The two teams ran with the ball a similar number of times, but the All Blacks made a lot more ground…over a hundred metres more.
The All Blacks have been working at trying to put each other into space, or at least get each other running at a weak shoulder, whereas the Boks were trying to use the size and power of their forwards to crash through a defender. No-one is more capable of doing that than the likes of Alberts, Mtawarira and co, but when teams know you’re going to do it, it is easier to defend just by having two tacklers in the required space.
One notable exception was Adriaan Strauss…he is an expert at getting himself into a bit of space, and he does it without “sea gulling” away from the heavy stuff.
Make no mistake this was a very committed and determined Springbok team that played with great heart. Francois Louw’s addition certainly boosted the effort in the loose, while Bryan Habana’s try was sheer genius. It all made for a cracking test, a real old fashioned scrap, and was certainly a match of incredible physical intensity.
But when their tactics did not come off, the Boks became frustrated, and the discipline started to slip.
The focus of that frustration was Richie McCaw, who was lucky not to end the game with a busted jaw.
One can understand the frustration and fury McCaw causes other teams….George Smith and Phil Waugh used to cause similar distress among All Black fans, but the fact is that when a team get fixated with what an opposing individual is doing they are taking their eye off the ball.
And McCaw was in one of those moods when every time he copped a shot, he just got back to his feet and charged back into the fray, all the more determined. It was a great performance, reminiscent on many levels of Sean Fitzpatrick.
I must say while I thought Dean Greyling was lucky not to get red carded or a longer ban than one match, Heyneke Meyer did a very smart thing afterwards by taking ownership of the situation, apologising and vowing to improve discipline. That sort of attitude is far more likely to earn some kind of reward down the track than an outburst about unfair treatment from referees and the judiciary such as his predecessor would have given.
The thing is if they’d got just a few more things right, landed a couple more goals, grabbed their chances, not kicked away quite so much ball and not given away a couple of silly penalties, the Springboks might well have won this test, the points table would have a far different look to it, and with games to come in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg the pressure would be all on the All Blacks.
I note HMs comment that this Springbok team has the potential to become a great one. They certainly showed that potential for a time on Saturday night, but to achieve it is going to require a shift in thinking over tactics and one or two areas of selection by the man himself.
Meyer must surely swallow his pride and install a new number 10. Goosen is a prodigious talent and one for the future.
He could transform the Boks' attacking play if allowed. Perhaps he should be given a shot against Australia ahead of the AB rematch? If not, then Lambie, whose continuing absence is a cause of great puzzlement to many of us here in NZ.
The ABs are winning without looking the finished article, but they should also improve with time, which is why the Boks will really be ruing this lost opportunity to knock them off their stride. They could well beat them in Joburg but by then it could be too late.
Finally a word about the match in Australia.
Argentina might have been lucky to be awarded a try after their winger put a foot on the touchline in the lead up, but they spent the rest of the game paying for it.
No doubt referee Wayne Barnes and his mates saw the gaffe on the big screen (after it was replayed endlessly), and from there on they simply did not give the Pumas a fair go, and that had a huge impact on the eventual result.