Well that didn’t go to plan. Diving deep inside to find my optimistic side I’ve managed to find a few good things to go along with the bad and the downright ugly.
So for the record a 35-7 loss to the Boks is not a good thing, ever! Unless of course you’re from South Africa or any other country except NZ. Reading the media on the game it appears that this result has been something that pleases so many other people. Seeing how good the Boks were I’d be a bit wary of them myself because if they were as good against NZ as so many are saying, then their team better be a bit wary as they could suffer the same, or similar result.
Clint Eastwood has always been one of my favourite actors and taking the lead, albeit backwards from one of my favourite movies let’s look at the Ugly, the Bad, and the Good from today’s game.
To be honest, from a NZ perspective there was a lot here. Scott Barrett proving that while he may one day take over the mantle from Retallick or Whitelock, that time is a long way away. He does so much that’s right, and has led the way a lot this year, but that dumb shoulder charge against a player on the ground, when the ball was already lost, is just a level of stupid that should not be tolerated in the AB setup. There was a lot of good counter rucking from both teams, but this needs to be timed well and when players are on the ground and the ball is secure at the back of their ruck, that is not the time. While his red card was because is was a 2nd yellow, I think the citing commission may see more and I’m expecting some time on the sideline for him. If more than 3 games then his World Cup is likely to be over and NZ will need to bring in someone else. Lucky there’re a few days before teams have to be fully confirmed for the tournament.
The other ugly side was the lack of discipline that gave away so many penalties and provided the Boks with the ammunition they needed to keep the pressure on. I blame the senior players here. One of the biggest responsibilities you have as a senior player is to read the referee and adapt your play and the team to how he/she is adjudicating. This was never done and time after time the ABs gave away penalties for the same infraction. The Boks also gave away more than they would’ve liked,the difference was the ABs inevitably let them off the hook when they did it.
There were a couple of areas that were bad rather than ugly. Playing catch-up rugby puts pressure on players and this wasn’t managed well. So many passes were dropped or went to the opposition because players pushed when it would have been better to have held on and continued to build.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where the ABs were so loose with possession. If they weren’t throwing the ball to the Boks they were losing it in contact and giving away scrums. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was a bit of a worry with so many of them doing it. One or two players, then you can look at them, but when so many are doing it you need to look a bit deeper. In saying that, the Boks had their fair share of dropped balls as well but NZ didn’t capitalise on those in the same way. The dropped ball also meant that the AB attack never really materialised in the game, and when it did, silly mistakes like the knock on before Jordan’s try meant that it wasn’t exploited.
Some of the combinations didn’t seem to work as well as they have in the past. The passing between the forwards was good but it was a bit telegraphed and the Boks seemed to counter it well. There needs to be more variety and some players need to just crash ahead a bit more. In saying that the Boks seemed to win most of the contacts in this game, generally making ground going forward and stopping the ABs dead. Body position and footwork needs to be exploited better by some of the ABs. Also, the cohesion in defence between Reiko and Jordie was a bit off and while individually they were good, as a team I felt they left holes and weren’t as clinical as expected.
Both the lineout and scrum were very poor. To be fair NZ stole a couple of the Bok lineouts as well, but they certainly lost more than they won. Unsure if it was the Boks breaking the calls or what but they certainly seemed to know where the ball was going. The Boks have two fantastic front rows and while the best NZ front row may be able to match the Boks best, the 2nd best is well behind the Boks 2nd best. This could well be a game changer for the Boks and teams will need to go into matches with a strategy to reduce scrums against them.
Now I’m a firm believer that life doesn’t have any absolutes. Nothing is ever totally good (wine comes close but the hangover if you have too much kills that) and nothing is ever totally bad. There were actually some good aspects of this game for the ABs. Their defence in the first 30 minutes and last 10 was outstanding, once they got the timing in the lineouts right. Two forwards down and the Boks only managed one try from a set drive was pretty good. The commitment of the players, and the process for setting the defence worked well. Jordie Barrett was very good making some great tackles and getting to his feet fast to go again time after time.
In fact the individual work to make a play and then get up and back into line was very good all night. Most of the Boks points came from exploitation of AB mistakes rather than planned moves and while that says a lot about their ability to react and play what was in front of them, the AB defence was able to match most of the set moves they tried.
While this result didn’t go the way that the ABs and NZ wanted (of course everyone else in the world is happy) I think there was enough good that the ABs can go away without feeling too bad about the game. The result doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and the idea that this somehow translates into a despair that will kill off the ABs in the pool is just anti AB feeling going a bit too far. I think the ABs will get a lot of good out of this game and be able to take that forward into the RWC. My optimistic side believes that this is not as bad as what some are saying and I even think the loss will be something that will improve their game for the competition ahead.
Let’s see how this goes.