Wallabies too good for fading Boks
Australia came from behind to score 20 points in the second half and beat the Springboks 26-19 in their Castle Rugby Championship match in Perth, compounding the problems for coach Heyneke Meyer.
The Boks led 13-7 after a solid first half, but then reverted back to type and kicked away almost all their possession, while the Wallabies stepped up a notch and retained theirs, eventually finding the gaps to score two second-half tries and win the match, thus giving coach Robbie Deans some breathing room.
Considering that the Springboks have lost seven of their last eight games against the Wallabies, and five now in a row – with more experienced and better teams than this one – it is not a major surprise for them to lose away from home.
But in a year where Wallaby rugby is bleeding, Robbie Deans is under pressure, and the Boks played in their most friendly stadium down under, they certainly would never have factors more in their favour, even though they had won only six out of 36 away games since the Sanzar nations started playing each other in 1996.
Still, the Boks executed their game-plan well in the first half, although the lack of variety and constant decisions to give possession away also cost them in the second half.
On top of this, while their game-plan needed collisions to be dominated, they hardly found this and while the breakdown was an improvement, it was a far cry from what will be needed next week against the All Blacks.
Add to this the old demon of indiscipline. Eben Etsebeth will be lucky if he isn’t cited for an attempted headbutt on Nathan Sharpe, while Tendai Mtawarira’s 10 minutes in the sin bin for deliberately taking out Kurtley Beale with the shoulder, did little to help the Boks' cause.
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There will be many autopsies of this loss in the next few days, but there are some serious questions facing the Bok management right now, and with Meyer having been in charge for only six games, with three wins, two draws and a loss, the Boks know they will have to start firing soon.
As much as there will be a call for player changes, there needs to be a rethink in the game-plan.
Variety and execution often come together, but apart from 20 minutes against England, the current Bok squad has hardly delivered what their coach has asked them to. Either a change in personnel or a change in thinking is needed.
While the Wallabies have a better record against the Boks, this was a game where the Boks had an opportunity to change that, and they didn’t snatch the opportunity.
SOFT MOMENTS AND INDISCIPLINE
On a night when they were getting the ascendancy, soft moments and indiscipline played a similarly big factor in their downfall, and allowed the Wallabies to grab back the momentum, the lead, and ultimately the victory.
The Boks had spoken all week about how they needed to dominate the Wallaby forwards. For 40 minutes they were getting the better of exchanges, but that physical dominance was never at the level that the coaching staff would have hoped it to be.
Plus, with the Wallabies changing their tactics in the second half, deciding to put up phases and stop their aimless kicking, the Bok defence was challenged more directly in the second half, and –especially around the fringes – was found to be wanting.
It was here that the Boks were exploited and where the Wallabies found momentum, but on a night where neither side could lay claim to ascendancy at the breakdown, it came down to what both sides did with the ball that made the difference.
And here, unfortunately, the Boks were found wanting. A quick look at the stats shows there was little between the sides. Both won their setpieces well, both conceded nine penalties, and if the stats from ruckingoodstats.com are to be believed, the Wallabies missed 19 tackles to the Boks' 14.
The real difference came with the moments of attack. The Boks had several opportunities in the first half, but were unable to capitalise on most of them. While there was some hard work by the likes of Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Frans Steyn, and even Zane Kirchner, they had little to show for their efforts.
All there was from the first 40, despite controlling most of the game, was a solitary try from Habana, made when Kirchner pounced on an up-and-under, and the Boks swept through phases left and right before the winger charged through the middle to score.
At 13-7, there was an expectancy the Boks were going to move up a gear in the second half, but the change in Australia’s tactics, and some soft moments by the Boks, put them straight onto the back foot.
The first try, which gave the Wallabies the lead, came from a defensive lapse between Morne Steyn and Juandre Kruger.
Steyn went inside, with Kruger too late to cover the gap, and Scott Higginbotham found an easy path to the tryline through a simple mistake.
It was a soft moment, and another came shortly afterwards that put the Boks on the back foot.
Lwazi Mvovo left a kickoff, then ostensibly tried to stop it with his foot, and while it seemed he had missed the ball, referee Nigel Owens judged he had touched it, and the Wallabies had a five-metre scrum.
From that pressure came a penalty, and more points, and while the Boks did well to get themselves back on the scoreboard, a mistake at the breakdown, where the Wallabies turned over a Bok ball in the midfield, allowed them to break left and send Ben Robinson over for the match-winning try.
With a flood of late replacements the Boks looked better, but it was not to be enough in the end.
The Bok management will know this was a step up from Mendoza, but in the eyes of an ever-increasingly unforgiving public, it wasn’t good enough.
Australia – Tries: Scott Higginbotham, Ben Alexander. Conversions: Berrick Barnes (2). Penalties: Barnes (4).
South Africa – Try: Bryan Habana. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalties: M Steyn (2), Frans Steyn (2).