The performance of the All Blacks against the Wallabies was stupendous, difficult to fault, sharp on attack, perfect, almost, in execution, and solid in all tight phases. The Wallabies did not lose, they were hammered. Heroic though the home side was in its efforts to stem a tsunami of unstoppable power, the rampant tide overwhelmed them. Credit must go to them for a revival of sorts in the last twenty minutes but they were, at that stage, one could say, playing under water.
Beauden Barrett gave as good a display at flyhalf as I have ever seen: judgement sound, decisions crisp and quick, kicks accurate, tackling effective and committed. He is also comfortable off either foot, a crucial skill at any level. The try he scored was a team effort but his finishing was fantastic. Naas Botha commented on TV that ‘the handling of the All Blacks was excellent’. With respect, he got it wrong. ‘Respect’ because it was very good but he missed the real point. The handling was good only because the passing - low hands, accurate to the navel, overhead lobs, offloads - were correct in every way. Here is a coaching squad that understands ‘attention to detail’. I can’t see anyone in the championship beating them.
In contrast, the Boks, though full of fire and brimstone from the start, failed to settle into a comfortable pattern of play. The game plan was there but execution was erratic. Apart from a brilliant scything break by Jantjies which should have led to a try, it took the home team until the seventieth minute to reach a first-class level of skill. Passing again was below par: do the backline coaches train the players – all of them – in the various aspects of distribution? It doesn’t look like it. They set the bar too low. Every All Black player, forwards and backs are skilled in passing, so quick, so straight, so will-timed.
I wonder if our coaches watch each All Blacks match with analytical concentration. Do they notice the way the New Zealand wings and/or fullback take every opportunity to join the line with superb timing? Though it happens now and then with the Boks, there doesn’t appear to be an appreciation of the level and frequency with which this needs to be done. I recall Combrinck coming in for a reverse pass and Goosen coming in at times, but the slick combinations are rare. Though he gave a wonderful display, even the effervescent Faf de Klerk, standing up too soon, threw a wild pass behind Jantjies’ right ear, it was fumbled and the rapacious Pumas came perilously close to scoring.
Goosen is a fine player but he is at sea at fullback. He has not been coached in any degree of detail regarding positional play when the opposition are on the attack. His presence in the line near his tryline, noticed quickly by Crotty, I think, to chip the ball into the in-goal area gave away a try. Who told Goosen to join a defensive backline in that situation? Anybody? Was it discussed? I fear not. On the positive side, Goosen’s try from a well-worked move by de Klerk breaking wide and passing inside, was truly breathtaking.
The performance of the Sprinboks in the last ten minutes showed impressive resolve and attacking flair and forward momentum. Whiteley was all over the place, taking the ball, distributing and the passing was very good indeed. Jantjies goal-kicking was sound, but his over-dependence on his left foot makes him vulnerable. This does not appear to worry Allister Coetzee or Zwandile Stick. In my book, just not good enough. Towards the end, under pressure, the team really’ jelled’, the scrumming was focused and strong, the lineouts were sound, and the rolling mauls worked well against a team who knows about forward play and how to defend. The Pumas have every right to feel disappointed but they will have learned the hard lesson that a match lasts for a full eighty minutes, not seventy.
The Boks deserved their victory, but they need to play from the kick-off at the level they showed towards the end of the game. They an ability to perform at a very high level, but if they waste good ball through careless basic skills, victories will remain elusive. In painting terms, the coaching is post-impressionist when it ought to be ultra-realist. Every detail of play needs fine attention.
I remain encouraged and hope my optimism is justified as they take on the Antipodean teams.