I generally try to temper my emotions in my reflections of performance in order to avoid overreacting either positively or negatively for a pleasing or poor performance respectively by the national side. A display like that delivered by the Springboks in Albany, unfortunately, gives one very little to work with in eeking out positives. The only real positive is that it can only get better.
The coaching staff, particularly the defensive coach and whomever is responsible for the lineouts, owe the nation an apology, such was the calamitous ineptitude of those particular departments. To boast the riches in the second row that South Africa is blessed with and still have unreliable lineouts is just criminal. The Springboks surrendered 8 lineouts off their own throw. Not being confident of your own ball at set piece ripples through the entire team as you can never fully psychologically commit to attack, and penalty opportunities to advance yourself upfield created through guile and pressure either in the set piece or in open play are for nought since possession will be surrendered at the ensuing lineout. The inability to launch from first phase completely neuters an attack as plans are compromised and the only modes available are turnover or to risk running from deep under pressure against an organised defense.
Brendan Venter has been heaped with praise for his intervention in a much improved Springbok defense. However, there were still questions about the speed of the defensive line and how simply looking to be organised on the line rather than advancing aggressively to deny time and space would hold up against a side that plays flat with the skill to suddenly shift the point of attack over multiple phases. The All Blacks answered that question 57 times. Venter needs to own the fact that the Bok defense was so easily out flanked on first phase to give the All Blacks attack momentum against backtracking Springbok defenders, and the fact that on numerous occasions the systems broke down to the extent that the Boks simply ran out of numbers. An unacceptable 33 tackles were missed by the Springboks today but the problem was largely systematic.
The Springboks were humiliated by a team that is leagues better than them, however, there is certainly not a 57 point difference in the quality of these 2 teams. Allister Coetzee and his technical team have a mountain of work to get through before the rematch in Cape Town but some of the most glaring deficiencies are fixable in that time, even if it means that some selections need to be reviewed. Malcolm Marx is a sensational ball carrier and his contributions in many aspects are astonishing but, unless he can rectify his lineout struggles, he remains a liability to the team’s cause. Similarly, the likes of Jesse Kriel and Raymond Rhule are understandably attracting the ire of many supporters as they have not exactly covered themselves in glory with their defensive efforts. A marked improvement in their own roles is needed or they will become insufferable in spite of their attacking ability. Francois Hougaard is definitely the best defender available to the Springboks at no9 but his primary responsibilities at the base have left a great deal to be desired as well.
Unfortunately, the gulf in skill between the two traditional rivals will take a great deal longer to fix than areas such as defensive systems and set pieces, but that’s a project with a 2019 horizon. Being off the pace from the All Blacks in the short term is understandable (not that it’s avoidable) with the view of catching up by the 2019 world cup. A 57 point difference is not acceptable under any circumstances. I think that what unfolded in Albany was somewhat of a perfect storm with an abysmal Springbok showing being accompanied by an inspired All Blacks delivery. It’s probably not yet time to press panic buttons but it’s clear that adjustments in approach are necessary, and personnel changes need serious consideration.