If the Springboks’ two heavy defeats in New Zealand gave their ‘bonkers’ coach Peter de Villiers cause to believe his team were the victims of some form of conspiracy, their third consecutive Tri-nations defeat, this time to the unfancied Wallabies in Brisbane, must have him thinking Michael Moore is about to make a movie about them. Hell, all the credits run about the same – the plot similar (yellow cards to his boofheaded forwards, weak defense, directionless kicking, experienced stars underperforming), and similar outcomes (other team – 30 odd, his team – quite a bit less than that). So what’s really going on?
For starters, the Wallabies had clearly swotted up on how the All Blacks had put the Boks to the sword the previous two weeks. They adopted the tactic of rarely kicking the ball into touch, and thus starving Matfield and co of their easiest won possession. They were fiercely competitive at the breakdown, sharp on the counter attack, and they also utilised the AB’s tactic of keeping a big loose forward to run two wide of the ruck into the big Bokke backline.
Their forward effort, led by Western Force breakaway David Pocock (who had a ripsnorter of a match, snatching possession at least three times, and silencing any suggestions that George Smith and Phil Waugh had been put out to pasture too soon) was the key to their remaining competitive, and providing their quality backs with usable ball. Skipper Rocky Elsom also had a fine match, muscling up to the Boks loosies and running freely with ball in hand – although I’m not convinced he is really captaincy material; surely he is just caretaking until sensational halfback Will Genia is ready to assume the role?
Genia was again probably the pick of the Wallabies backs, although youngster James O’Connor also put in an inspired performance, including dumping Matfield on his arse, looking safe and secure under the high ball, running fast and hard on the counter attack and showing maturity and composure far beyond his tender years. Their midfield backs, on the other hand, were a bit of a mixed bag – Giteau looks all out of sorts, centre Rob Horne was, again, virtually invisible, while Quade Cooper seems to have plateaued after some superb performances in the June tests, and has more than a hint of Carlos Spencer-style flakiness about his game. Fortunately, in Berrick Barnes the Wallabies have a tailor-made replacement for Cooper, given his two match suspension for a dangerous tackle on Morne Steyn.
For their part, the Boks looked unfit and physically battered, not to mention mentally cowed. Their front rowers, captain John Smit especially, are too heavy and slow, and their loose forwards are all the same shade of mediocre, with Ryan Kankowski (out of position) on the blindside an especially poor selection. Ruan Pienaar at halfback was an improvement on Rickie Januarie (but only just), while Steyn and replacement five-eighth Butch James offer extremely limited options – one is a wimp and the other a thug. And their buffoon of a coach’s outbursts really can’t be helping – one wonders how much longer intelligent men and seasoned campaigners like Smit, Matfield and Habana will be able to tolerate this clown.
The All Blacks should still be able to put the Wallabies away next week – too much form, fitness, mobility and confidence. The Boks, meanwhile, will return home to lick their wounds and lie in wait to extract their revenge – they will, however, have to have a serious tactical rethink and work hard on their fitness if they are to avoid some serious humiliation…
– Jeremy Taylor