21-10 was the final score at Murrayfield, as South Africa continued their unbeaten run on their European Tour. Was it entertaining? No. Has Pat Lambie been a disappointment at 10? Yes. Is he following orders? Probably.
Naas Botha lamented the laboured way in which the Springboks achieved victory against the Scots, not too dissimilar to the way a weakened Irish side were tamed the week before in Dublin. The Boks’ game does not go beyond in certain respects the TV show “The Walking Dead”, as the forwards tackle and march forward with the ball with the type of monotonous spirit comparable to zombies seeking flesh. For forward play, that’s all well and good, and something the Springboks should be complemented on.
However, its the backline’s lack of creativity which is causing concern among Springbok fans. For all the talent within the Springbok team and South Africa at Super rugby level, South Africa’s backline pales in comparison to their more creative and ambitious New Zealand and Australian peers. Surely it isn’t a bad thing to aspire to play the way the All Blacks do within a South African context?
Botha, the former Springbok flyhalf and well known SuperSport pundit was quoted in the Business Day newspaper on Monday saying “We played two Tests and won two, but we are not playing the most attractive rugby and it almost seems as though nothing is happening in terms of creativity. But then again, the team won, so can one complain?”
Indeed. Botha further asked what the team could hope to achieve playing the way they do. As the All Blacks demonstrated against South Africa in Johannesburg at FNB Stadium earlier this year, the Springboks cannot hope to out muscle the All Blacks. That certainly didn’t work, as the New Zealanders greater skill, creativity, and all round game drowned the Springboks to a 32-16 defeat. It was depressing being in the stadium releasing just how far behind the men in green are from the men in black.
Part of the problem perhaps is that Meyer wasn’t given the best of starts, as he was immediately forced to hunker down with England coming to SA to play three Tests in an assignment Springbok fans expected to win.
As the win-loss ratio continues to be an indicator of a coaches’ success in the professional era, coaches will be first to adopt win-at-all-costs tactics, and if Meyer’s side manages to beat England this week, his record will go to seven wins from 12 starts, beyond the all important 55% mark.
2013 will feature a much easier in-coming tour schedule, as Scotland, Samoa and either Italy or Fiji will fill the June window during the Super rugby season. That means Meyer could be tempted (or hopefully) to spread his wings in regards to his playing style, perhaps he viewed 2012 as a year to survive.
Regardless of what happens against England, he has done some things well, such as introducing the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth and Johan Goosen to Test rugby. To his credit, he has realised he needs a fetcher within his loose-trio, with Francois Louw doing a superb job since becoming a regular within the Springbok pack. Some things he has not done well, such as relentlessly backing Morne Steyn even when the Bulls man was hopelessly out of form, along with picking too many Bulls. Zane Kirchener’s retention at fullback is also a selection that continues to displease.
The players will receive a welcome break before the grindstone of Super rugby pre-season gets under way. It hasn’t been the best year for Springbok rugby, but we can hope 2013 will offer more on the field, especially as Meyer grows increasingly comfortable with his position. Perhaps then we will start seeing the Springboks playing in a way that doesn’t just earn the result, but in a way, stamps the Springbok brand on their opponents.
Till then, we will just have to make due.