This post is a full excerpt of a post-match opinion review of the nerve wrecking clash at Twickenham when England battled to hold on to a 12-11 win against Springboks.
South Africa v England, Twickenham, 3rd Nov 2018
South Africa had a dominant first half but failed to score points despite all the pressure they were applying on the English.
The game plan the Springboks followed was the age old South African game plan that every coach, I had from under 13’s through to club rugby, were desperately trying to implement and achieve. That is to win the forward battle have the fly-half kick to the corners. Applying the pressure and waiting to capitalize on opposition mistakes.
South Africa never capitalized on the advantage they had gained by applying the pressure of playing the game in the opposition’s half and enjoying the lions share of the possession. Instead Handre Pollard was exposed for his lack of creativity without two key players playing alongside him. Those two are Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux.
De Klerk not only has such speed to the breakdown, he also gets that ball clear of the breakdown very fast. This allows the fly-half those precious milliseconds extra to operate in. De Klerk is a lively player who might snipe or even make long passes to the midfield, with this play De Klerk becomes a focus of attention for opposition defenses, again alleviating the pressure on his fly-half.
Between De Klerk and Le Roux, they create many opportunities by passing to players in space. When le Roux plays alongside Pollard, Le Roux takes the ball at first receiver almost as much as Pollard does. Le Roux’s vision and creativity wallpapers over the two major cracks in Pollards game. Pollard has very little creativity and because he carries out the game plan so rigidly his decision making is affected as he fails to see other options.
Pollard did kick to the right places, and in this respect, he was commanding the game but what he failed to see was as a result of his kicking the press defense was not rushing up any longer as they began to expect the kick. This is the perfect opportunity to now start attacking with ball in hand.
The Boks however stuck strictly to there game-plan of kick to the corners and then employ the line-out catch and drive to get over the line. Part of unlocking a defense is creating doubt in their minds but South Africa stuck to the script and did exactly what was expected.
Where it could be highlighted where they failed was in the executing of this game plan. The blame lying on the broad shoulders of SA hooker, Malcolm Marx, for his throwing in at the line-out. Marx’s throwing in did blow three or four opportunities in the red zone for the Boks.
Of Game plans and game-changing decisions
I would however question the leadership’s decision making. South Africa had just earned a penalty from a 5-metre scrum. This set-piece the Boks did seem to be in control of. Marx had already had two wayward throws. So why didn’t Kolisi go for another scrum? The English may not have been expecting this different tactic. This would have had the extra effect of saving Marx from having to desperately try get it right when it all seemed to be going wrong.
It is easy to put the blame on the likes of Pollard and Marx, but it was the game plan that lacked ambition. This game plan has limited success and teams inevitably workout how to combat it. I am a South African living in England, and I was the only Bok supporter down at my local. The English fans comments were that the game had not sparked into life or that it was plain boring.
I agree with them I would prefer to see a game where we try and run in tries through the backs rather than this strangulate game plan that has been used by Jake White, Heyneke Meyer and now Rassie Erasmus. Does this game plan represent all the people of South Africa or just one group? Why was Kolisi pulled off before full-time once again? What happened to transformation and picking players of colour?
Were the Boks cheated out of an opportunity to win the game by Angus Gardner’s decision to not penalize Owen Farrel for a shoulder charge on Andre Esterhuisen?
Yes, the Boks were cheated.
Did SA deserve to win? Hmmmm I don’t know.
Stephen Rigby, the author of this post, is a staunch enthusiast of rugby and a supporter of the Springboks. Although residing in England he states his origin to be Johannesburg, South Africa.