A Saffa Perspective

Congrats to ABs. They continue to show that somehow, some way, they consistently have the minerals to edge these close encounters. It shows a deep mental resolve and an ability to do the right thing at the right time when it really counts, under huge pressure. It is this ability (basics under pressure at the crunch) that make them consistently such a good team. It is the defining feature often of any winning team/player in any sport. ABs have this in spades.

This can be sharply contrasted with SA in the final 10 or so minutes, who succumbed to extremely poor decision making coupled with even worse execution. It is one thing to take the wrong option (that happens), but it is another to then fuck it up even further and turn the mistake of a wrong option into a disaster of poor execution as well. We needed a cool head to take control at the end there recognize the game is opening up, recognize there is space everywhere and recognize that it is time to back yourself and try and strike. Sadly, the SA game runners have become so defensive that they are struggling to see the ball when it is there to be hit…

We needed Elton Jantjies on the field in the final 20. He is a controversial player in SA, but there is no Bok 10 that is better at taking the ball flat and to the line and actually creating some time and space for the players on the outside. Apparently v Staden was struggling with a shoulder, EJ was last man on the bench and they didn’t want to risk finishing with 14 men…fine.

Having said all that, I find some of the Clive Woodward level vitriol on here wrt. Bok game plan a bit much. The kick chase worked. The mauling worked. The rush worked. By ‘worked’ I mean the ABs were clearly feeling the pressure and the Boks got into a position to win the game. What they failed to do, once the poison started taking effect, is switch to a more attacking mode. They were getting in behind and the space was starting to present itself. Personally, I have no problem with the Bok game up to that point. That is how we play. But we over did it here. They aren’t recognizing when they are in the strike zone and things are potentially on. The team is under pressure, coming off two frankly horrific losses to Aus, and they’ve gone into their shells. Nienaber’s mettle as coach is going to be tested here and whether he can get them to play with the freedom and confidence needed to take advantage of the opportunities that they do create with pressure. They are scared of losing now and it shows. I enjoy the contrast in styles (I’d rather we were able to play like ABs, but we can’t, it has been the graveyard of many Bok coaches) and there have been some very watchable games between these two teams in recent years. Claiming everything is shit and the Boks are ruining the game (as some do) is really saying “we don’t look pretty and fun when you guys play like that and we don’t like it much”. If I was an AB I’d rather celebrate the fact that you guys can manage to do both (scrap and dance) depending on the occasion. This was an old school street fight and it wasn’t pretty. But that isn’t because of the styles imho. It was because of the mistakes made on both sides. Neither team played particularly well and I think the pressure and occasion got to both teams. Boks desperate to win and ABs tantalizingly close to another RC and 100th test. The pressure showed.

Finally, re slowing the game down: clearly that was the Bok intent. They were walking to lineouts and other set pieces etc. Controlling the tempo of the game is part of sport. ABs want it quick, we want it slow. That is part of the tactical battle. Everyone knows this is part of the Bok game. However, because everyone knows this, in my humble opinion, there is text book confirmation bias all over this thread now. The Boks want a slow game, therefore every injury is a fake. There is an alternative explanation that is no less plausible: in rugby you sometimes have injury stoppages. Shit happens. Need to watch the game again and look at stoppages that aren’t for blood, but my sense here is this line fits a narrative now. The fact is there is no proof that any of these injuries are faked. None. What I would say is that the ref was poor at controlling the pace of the game outside of injuries. The lineout walk is an example. Pearce easily could have injected some tempo with a well placed free kick against Boks early on.

I expect next week to be a more free flowing game. I also expect the ABs to take it more comfortably as a result. For Boks I think the team is going to be largely unchanged (Kolbe back in though), but expect to see EJ on the field much earlier. There is an outside chance I think that he starts with Reinach at 9 and Faf is asked to go sit in the naughty corner and gets dropped out of the match day. I think it unlikely, but not impossible…

Anyway, bring it on. And well done again to ABs.

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