The SPINE of a rugby team (2 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 15)
The test match against the All Blacks on Saturday once again highlighted the importance of having a strong ‘spine’ within your team if you are going to compete for 80 mins against the best in the world.
Lets look at the Bok players in the relevant positions vs their All Black counterparts.
Strauss had his usual solid outing at lineout time. He also had some reasonably good moments when carrying the ball and at the breakdown. Where he was weak was on defence. He and a number of other Bok forwards were caught ball watching for the All Blacks 1st try (21:42) allowing dynamic opposite number Dane Coles to get his pass away to an unmarked Israel Dagg. Worryingly, Strauss and his mates fell for the same type play later in the half (27:33) with Coles getting outside Strauss and offloading to Savea for another easy try. Both tries could and should have been avoided as there were more than enough numbers on the short side. Strauss as an experienced player and the captain of the team needs to take a large portion of the responsibility. Incidentally a very similar try was scored by Australia against the Boks the previous week when Genia snapped back to the short side and floated a pass to the unmarked Coleman for his 1st test try. The question needs to be asked. Are the players learning from their mistakes?
Marx is being touted as the next big thing and had one really good line break in the 2nd half. Crucially and more importantly, the Bok lineout went to pieces when he came on, gifting the All Blacks possession at crucial times. Marx inability to perform his primary role in pressure situations like the Super Rugby final and this test match is a concern but he is young and deserves time to settle. I personally think we need to invest in Marx as he is the future.
No need to go into detail. Coles set up 3 All Black tries, was very prominent in defence and at the breakdown and didn’t miss a single lineout the whole game. World class footballer.
Whiteley had by far his best match in a Bok jersey. He was in my view the Boks best player particularly in the 1st half. He is one of the few Bok forwards who uses his footwork to beat defenders and he is fit and mobile. He is the only Bok player in the ‘spine’ of the Bok team that even remotely held his own against his All Black counterpart. He has also become a reliable lineout option for the Boks.
Read allowed others in his team to grab the headlines but was his usual reliable self, leading the team with aplomb. Crucially he hardly ever makes a mistake and executes his core skills without fuss and is a handful in the wider channels on attack and is also a good lineout option and tough defender.
Faf De Klerk
De Klerk had another poor game. He burst onto the scene in the tests against Ireland but struggles to perform his primary roles of passing & kicking and his game management is not where it needs to be at this level. Knock ons at the base of rucks, poorly executed box kicks (36:37) as well as being caught in possession while running sideways (34:25) are some of the mistakes that are really hurting the Boks. He also kicked the ball directly into touch from outside his 22m area (43:33) which gifted the Blacks possession at a key point in the game. Nobody doubts that he is brave and a real ‘fighter’ but this is test match rugby, not club rugby and a scrumhalf needs more finesse than he is currently providing. Sadly, there are no scrum halves in SA that are any better. Defensively De Klerk was also poor on Saturday but there were mitigating factors because he was clearly being used to defend Beauden Barrett off scrums which made the Boks very vulnerable to the running 9 as shown in the Blacks final try (70:22). The All Black coaching staff exploited this set piece defensive system to perfection!
Smith performed poorly against Argentina by his lofty standards but delivered a masterclass against the Boks. As has become the norm, the All Blacks kicked more than the Boks but all but one of Smith’s box kicks were precisely measured and executed leading to turnovers or penalties awarded to his team. The Boks are still unable to cope with an accurate contestable kicking game and Smith exposed them once again. In his role of passing, Smith was quick at the base of rucks and passed crisply and accurately. He was also a menace with ball in hand, his clean break and off load to Ardie Savea for the Blacks 4th try was sensational.
Just when you breath a sigh of relief that Aaron Smith has departed the scene on comes Perenara! During his time on the field he added even more tempo to the Blacks attack. He scored the final try breaking to the open side off a RHS scrum after narrowly missing out on scoring another try moments earlier.
The key All Black players make very few errors. Jantjies unfortunately made game changing blunders. He dropped the kick off after the Boks try with the Blacks scoring from the resulting set piece. He kicked the ball directly into touch to start the 2nd half giving the opposition a scrum on the centre spot. In the test environment Jantjies attacking flair is nullified to a large extent and when one takes that away what else is there? Defensively he is weak and his kicking game is poor. His shocker of a kick (48:00) gifted possession to the Blacks and allowed them to run in their 3rd try and open the floodgates. His game management is non existent at times. Ultimately he makes far too many critical errors during a test match to be a viable option going forward.
To his credit, I thought Jantjies tried his best on defence on Saturday and made plenty of brave leg tackles on hard running All Black attackers. The tackles, however, were mostly passive in nature allowing the opposition to breach the gainline and get quick ball. He did his best in difficult circumstances as he was clearing targeted by the Blacks.
Solid and unspectacular. Doesn’t offer a great deal outside of a better all round kicking game. He also makes fewer critical errors during games. He has more experience. It is, however, sad that we are falling back on Steyn. The injuries to Pollard & Lambie have forced the hand of the coaching staff.
Barrett is arguably the best rugby player in the world at the moment. He was clearly a player that the Boks were eager to close down and they did that reasonably well. Unfortunately, when there is a big focus on a single player there is often lots of opportunity created for others around him which was the case on Saturday. The Blacks final try by TJ Perenara is a case in point. Barrett, although quiet by his standards, still performed all his core roles without error and controlled the game well.
Despite getting some reasonably good reviews Goosen is still making costly blunders and remains a concern at fullback in my opinion.
In the 26th minute, with the Boks attempting an ambitious play from inside their 22m, Goosen receives the ball and instead of kicking or passing early he holds onto the ball and gives a one handed forward pass gifting the Blacks an attacking LHS scrum which they duly score a try from. It’s moments like these which are really costing the Boks. With the Boks hanging on for halftime and feeding a defensive scrum 5m from their line, Goosen inexcusably misses touch putting his team under further pressure. In the 2nd half Goosen dropped the ball dead during promising attacking phase play (45:32) giving the Blacks another attacking scrum. He is too inconsistent in my view.
Smith was his usual slippery self scoring a good try and playing his part in the build up to other tries with his dynamic ball carrying. He makes very few errors and has a phenomenal all round skill set. Certainly one of the best players in the world at fullback or at wing.
The All Black ‘spine’ of Coles, Read, A Smith, Barrett & B Smith is arguably one of the strongest ever assembled in the history of rugby union. The Bok ‘spine’ is not even remotely in line. If your spine is not in line, you will struggle to walk let alone run. The Boks are in urgent need of surgery. Anyone know a good chiropractor!?
Note: The time in brackets is the actual time an event occurred during the game