This was a game of two halves. In the first, the Argentinians attacked with relentless ferocity and scored two superb tries, courtesy of running good lines with magnificent support. Sanchez kept them in the game with a great exhibition of place-kicking. The All Blacks scored their first try from a charge down by a poor kickoff from Hernandez; from that fullback Tuculet was caught when he had ample time to clear, but....wait for it and I had to wait till the forty-first minute to confirm my suspicions....he can’t kick with his right foot. Result? He ducked back to his left, scmothered and there were seven giveaway points on a plate with Savea over from the five yard scrum. Excusable? Of course not. Blame Tuculet and blame his backline coach. In the end it did not matter.
The All Blacks engaged all eight cylinders in the second half. Only four had been used earlier. Now it was all acceleration and raw engine power. The passing from broken and set play was of bewildering brilliance with Barrett mesmerising off both feet, Savea everywhere and Ben Smith counter-attacking with sidesteps to both right and left. A New Zealand commentator observed, ‘As Ben Smith ran at the Puma’s defender, the latter, in his efforts to stop him, turned himself into a pretzel’. The defender was, so to speak, eaten alive.
Two tactical kicks stand out: one was the perfectly executed grubber off his left foot – at speed, it went just ten metres – by Ben Smith to send Barrett away for a great try. The other was the left-footed Perenara’s right foot chip (take note Faf de Klerk) over a lineout to the corner flag: Savea nearly gathered to score.
My notes indicate a few criticisms of All Black players in the first half, but they mean nothing after the ground and air assault in the second half. I was thinking ‘as Fekitoa passes the ball only once out of five times he receives it, defence against him must be easier to read’. (Mills Muliaina used to pass it once out of ten times he had possession. Would he have been a better player if he’d linked more? Who knows?) Credit goes to Hansen and his support coaches for bringing on players from the bench early. They made a decisive difference. Romano and Taylor, to mention only two, were devastating on attack.
Crotty’s two tries were both gems of timing and running the right line. Moody’s try late in the match after an accurately kicked diagonal from Cruden hit Dagg in the chest, bounced back and the prop forward went over. Bizarre but testimony to the All Black practice of always having a man up in support out wide. He’s often a tight forward! I can’t think of another side which pays serious attention to that aspect of play.
As I watched this match, I felt humbled by the performance of the All Blacks and very privileged to watch.
SOUTH AFRICA VERSUS AUSTRALIA: AUS 23 - RSA 17
How does an international side like South Africa with some very good players lead 14-3 after fifteen minutes and then score only a penalty in the next sixty-five minutes? It’s impossible to answer unless one stresses the appalling lack of discipline, led by the brilliant but thuggish Etzebeth. His ten minutes in the bin put the Springboks under great pressure and points were lost. Etzebeth needs anger-management attention. His continual after-the-ball and off-the-ball aggression is unacceptable. He reminds me of the All Black lock, Ali Williams, another mafia contender, only worse.
But that’s only the start of what went wrong. A series of passing and handling errors gave possession away time and again. Again, important tackles were missed. Jantjies tries hard but he’s no tackler. Goosen, on the other hand, brought off a try-saving tackle to deny Kerevi. But, Goosen with ball in hand on the left wing, with a try in view, chips off his inside foot down Foley’s throat. I despair!
Is the fine gentleman, Adriaan Strauss, an effective leader? It doesn’t look like it. But then he’s hardly responsible for the indiscipline of his players who committed some awful gaffes to concede kickable penalties. Where are our accurately judged looped passes such as the one from Genia to Coleman on the short side? I did not see even one.
I was shocked to hear Nick Mallett say, on Super Sport after the match, that this was an intriguing encounter by two B division sides. Well, compared with the New Zealanders and even some of the Northern Hemisphere teams, that’s just plain true. One does not need an excess of grey matter or 20-20 vision. It’s there for all to see.
So on to the forthcoming match against the All Blacks. It’s facile but true to say our defence must be rock-solid, we have to, repeat, have to, play in their half. Our defensive and attacking kicking must be absolutely accurate. Last Saturday, Faf kicked four out of five box-kicks down the throat of some of the best counter-attackers the game has ever seen. Have Zwandile Stick and Johan van Graan taken him up on it? Have the cones been out on the practice field with kicks taken and players charging to measure how many times they get to the target as the ball descends? Is the stopwatch out? It should be routine. I doubt it because this is a coaching squad weak on analysis, poor on detail and ridiculous in selection. (That little drill, mentioned above, was routine when I coached Fort Victoria High School with Johan Heymans and Churchill boys with the great Peter Snyder, a long time ago, not from box kicks in those days but from the ‘Garry Owens ‘ then in vogue. Over and over and over again.) Our moves with our blindside wings were carefully assessed. We had a giant wing once at Fort Vic, one Errol Matthews, a sort of schoolboy Julian Savea. Boy, did we look at ways to get him into the line near the opposition tryline! This is not rocket science; it’s not even penicillin in a petri dish. It’s called incisive thinking.
Nice overall player that he is, what, I ask is Jesse Kriel, a fullback doing at centre? Have you ever, I mean ever, seen him break the line? I have not. I have seen Serfontein cruise through the opposition, Janse van Rensburg outwit his opposite number and burst through, I have seen Mapoe and Mnisi run intelligent lines and break the line. Kriel? Not once! De Jongh? Well he’s a journeyman with a fine sidestep off the right foot. Can either of these two centres cope with Crotty, Lienert-Brown or Fekitoa from New Zealand? I can only hope so. I’m not a praying man, but just maybe this time......
I was pleased to see Goosen and Habana joining the line, cutting in, trying to create that magical extra man. They are not at the Savea or Ben Smith stage of penetration but let’s hope they show the powerful confidence of players who believe in themselves.
I’d rather not predict a score for the Boks versus All Blacks match.