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RWC 2011- Quarter final

Australia 11 / South Africa 9

 

My 13 reasons why the Springboks lost

 

Halfway through a frustrating night -during which I didn’t sleep well due to the massive disappointment of SA dropping out of the 2011 RWC- I started to see some reasons why we lost.

 

The thing that kept me awake most was the fact that we had 76% of the ball, dominated scrums and line-out (Matfield taking 6 of their line-out ball), had territorial advantage for most of the match and had them under massive pressure for almost the entire match and still lost the game.

 

Here are the 13 reasons I came up during my night of suffering.

 

Taking on the best in the world with a bunch of inexperienced coaches

 

How is it possible -I kept asking myself during the night- that we lost with all the experience in the side and all that possession? The reasons/answers I came up with are all imbedded in the extreme arrogance and stupidity of SARU management who thought they could take on the best in the world with an inexperienced (if not sub-standard) coach.  

 

Rule interpretation changes in 2009.

 

It is interesting to note that both teams who played in the 2007 final didn’t make it past the quarters this year. South Africa and England are probably the two test nations that are most imbedded into the 10-man-flyhalf-dictating-type playing style.

 

Paddy O' Brein

 

Both were unable to adjust after the 2009 rule interpretations chances. England went for youth and South Africa stuck with experience. England enforced the chances (in playing style) more aggressively while South Africa tried to take the middle road. In the end South Africa got caught in between the two styles relying (falling back) on one to much when the going got tough and not doing enough of the other one.

 

Looking at England I don’t believe the selection of younger players would have changed our situation (in fact it would have made it worse like we saw in the tri-nations this year). I will however get back to the point of player selection later as it is one of the reasons I believe why we got unstuck.

 

Payback for 4 years of not running with the ball

 

We were caught in between the two styles like I mentioned in the previous point and we kept falling back on senior players who reverted to type when playing quality opposition.

 

During Jake White’s tenure the Springboks developed a style of scoring early in the match to take the lead and then reverted into defensive mode (which I hated with a passion) forcing the opponents to run at them so they can spring counter attacks of mistakes. They utilized the high kick and charge tactic to keep the pressure on the opposing team and squeezed the high kick receivers into the touch line with the fast Habana and Pierre Spies working in combo.

 

Things went haywire the moment we leaked that try and you could see the Springboks were totally stunned after being down 5-0 and then 8-0. They had to change their mind-sets from being in the lead forcing the opponents to make play toward chasing a lead.

 

In the end 4 years of not running enough with the ball required payback and the boks were just too one-dimensional on attack. There were not enough starter moves and not enough variety and the ball control at the ruck was just not developed enough to run with the ball.

 

No innovation

 

The Springboks never moved beyond the pods and the pods changed over time into stagnant tombstones.

 

Over the last four years there were no development in the backline and no development of new starter moves/game plans around new talent.

 

Lack of leadership

 

There was no real leadership in the coaching group with the result that players ran the show. The senior players stuck with what they felt comfortable with and with what they knew.

 

This resulted into a stagnant environment where nothing new was carefully planned, practiced and implemented.

 

Strategically ignorant

 

It was four years of reactive coaching. No pro-active stuff. The All Blacks in 2009 saw opportunity in the new rule interpretations and stared to systematically plan and prepare for tri-nations of 2010.

 

They (the All Blacks) were pro-active while our bunch kept on trying to catch-up after each humiliating defeat with reactive measures.

 

Our game plan was essentially to score early in the match and then hang on instead of developing the team to full potential.

 

The team and coaches were not trying to develop our game but focussed on the scoreboard. This is of course a Blue Bull thing (Naas Botha – look at the scoreboard) and enforced and maintained into the Springbok environment because of lack of real presence and depth in the coaching group.

 

Lack of attention to detail

 

The stagnant pods, the spilling of the ball in contact, the giving away of possessions at the ruck, the constant struggling in the scrums (yes it got better in this RWC but has been a persistent problem through-out the past 4 years), the poor quality of our backline play all resulted from a lack of attention to detail.

 

We lost this match against Australia due to running poor supporting lines. At the pods and when a player runs with the ball our supporting runners are to close and to lateral with the result that they have to turn to re-enter the collisions. It also put them in an unfavourable position to receive off-loads.

 

The Australian try came from two instances where the supporting runner was to lateral. We were on attack in their 25 looking good; next moment an off-load is spilled because the supporting runner is to flat. Australia gets the ball take us into our 25 where we try and ruck it up. Again Brussow is to lateral in his support of Schalk he trips and fall down creating a hole for the Aussies to compete for the ball.

 

This is just an example of lack of attention to detail which cost this Springbok team a number of test matches over the last 4 years.

 

Sub-standard rucking skills

 

This point is closely related to points 3 and 7. Our rucking skills are way behind the ball game. It has developed since we started playing S12/14 rugby but at Springbok level there have never been a concentrated effort to get it on par with the All Blacks.

 

The ruck or the collision area is the heart of All Black rugby. Warren Gatland is on his way to the final with a young and in my mind pretty mediocre bunch of players due to rectifying this one facet of Wales’s rugby.

 

How many times have the ‘fetcher’ flanker been the man of the match in test matches against us. Just in this RWC Sam Warburton detroyed us at the rucks and were man of the match and so was Poccock yesterday in the quarter final match. Why is this? Why this pattern that ‘fetcher’ flankers are MOM when they play against us? Richie McCaw always has better games against us than against Australia, England, Wales or Ireland.

 

 Danie Rossouw getting tackled with Pocock going for the ball

 

I would venture that these ‘fetcher’ flankers has such rippers against us because we are so poor at the breakdowns. Not enough attention to detail and not enough structure at the tackle area.

 

We know this and that’s why we try and avoid running with the ball. Well the problem is not going to disappear by ignoring it. Opposision teams target this area with the new rule interpretation because that’s how you can take opposition out of the match.

Poor player management

 

There was no national strategy to manage players. Peter de Villiers did not have enough stature as national coach to enforce (or get S15 coaches to buy into) a national strategy. Senior players played way to much rugby over the last two years.

 

Over-reliance on senior players

 

Peter de Villiers wheels came off every time he tried to play with younger players. He kept messing around with combinations (this was better during this RWC) but his lack of standing made him over-dependent on John Smit to steer the ship and on senior players to pull the wagon through the rough spots.

 

This culminated in senior players calling the shots.

 

Injuries to key players

 

Frans Steyn could have slotted those two long range penalties and won us the match.

 

The over-reliance and over-playing of senior players resulted in injuries to other key players as well notably Bakkies Botha and Juan Smit. Matfield had to sit out for a couple of games and Brussow actually went onto the field heavily strapped around the rib cage.

 

Fourie du Preez was just a shadow of himself after shoulder surgery which kept him out of the game for a year.

 

All teams have injuries and need to adjust to it. In South Africa’s case the injuries resulted from player fatigue due to poor player management, I believe.

 

Lack of speed

 

All the above culminated into lack of speed on the park. Lack of speed in general play and lack of players with real line breaking ability.

 

We were stuck with Habana who was past his best due to a team set-up/environment which was not conducive to developing and using new talent.

 

There was also lack of speed when we take the ball up and recycle it. Too slow was a repeating utterance from me when the boks started any movement and when they were recycling the ball.

 

On the rare occasions that we were able to force the opponents on the back foot we almost always scored. We lacked consistency in this department due to lack of attention to detail and lack of starter moves.

 

A common features of our play is standing pods behind the advantage line or charging forwards receiving the ball to far behind the advantage line and who were charging in to slow. It was rare for us to recycle the ball more than 5 times in a row because of just this problem.

 

We were also too one dimensional taking the ball up. It was always Schalk or Jannie du Plessis charging into channels 1 or 2.

 

What about using the backline taking it wide and running some angles like Samoa did or the No9 looping around before sending it wide like NZ did when Slade scored that fantastic try against us in the tri-nations (see clip below)?

 

Not attacking space

 

One of the biggest problems with South African rugby is our obsession with running over the opponent rather than attacking space. We saw this in abundance against Aussie in the quarters. Schalk the hulk was crashing into opponents to the extent that it became boringly predictable.

 

This has to be addressed and hopefully the new coach will have a strategy to constantly increase the percentage of times that that players attack space. Crashing it up is ok but not every time and variety and surprise is going to win us matches not brute force.

 

Official match report found in the media

 

James O'Connor's ability to land game defining kicks has taken Australia into the World Cup semifinal, with an 11-9 win over South Africa.

 

The livewire utility back took the Wallabies in front with nine minutes to go in a heart-stopping quarterfinal in Wellington and there was then enough determination to hold out the desperate South African team to book a place in next Sunday's semi at Eden Park.

 

Of all the quarterfinals this weekend, this one was the real heavyweight contest. Both of these teams were capable of winning the World Cup.

 

And it lived up to the billing. It was like two big bruisers slugging it out, with neither side able to land a killer blow - until cool-headed young wing O'Conner stepped up eight minutes from the end with the match winning penalty, nailed straight over into a tricky breeze from 35m out on the angle.

 

Will Genia was superb for the Wallabies. No other halfback in the world can play like him under pressure and time and time again he was able to get Australia out of trouble with a quick, long pass as Springboks were players were breathing down his neck.

 

Genia behind the ruck with Pierre Spies keeping an eye on him whith Matfield and JP Pietersen dropping down on him like fish eagles in the Ocovango river.

 

Will Genia tackling Fourie du Preez to prevent what looked like a certain try 

 

Flanker David Pocock also had a huge game and the difference in the Wallabies' performance in the games he plays to those he misses can't be understated.

 

Playing as a unit rather than individual efforts that was effective for South Africa, their tight-five won the collision and had the better of things at lineout time.

 

Of the South African backs, it was Jean de Villiers who stood out most, giving the side the direction that first-five Morne Steyn is incapable of creating.

 

Australia won the first scrum, because they jumped the call, but after then it was the Springboks pack that dominated.

 

The Springbok scrum dominated proceedings for most part of the match 

 

Victor Matfield playing in his last international match was simply superb in the lineouts.

 

Wallabies first-five Quade Cooper had another test where he went missing, there were few of those special moments he can produce, while his kicking was below ordinary.

 

For the first 11 minutes the Wallabies soaked up the pressure but the Springboks lost the ball on their 5m line and after a couple of quick passes James Horwill was in for the try.

 

 

 Three pictures above showing James Horwill going in for the only try of the match 

 

James O'Connor missed the conversion but landed a penalty six minutes later.

 

The Springboks suffered another blow when openside flanker Heinrich Brussow went off after 20 minutes following a hit to the ribs from Dan Vickerman.

 

Bryan Habana was also in the firing line and got smashed time and time again as he tried to find a path through the Wallabies defence.

 

Although he was unable to do this, the Springboks did finally get on the scoreboard in the 38tgh minute from a Steyn penalty.

 

Five minutes into the second half Patrick Lambie's try was ruled out because of a forward pass and in the 50th minute Habana and John Smit were both subbed. Habana, because he'd taken so many knocks, Smit because Bismarck du Plessis is a superior hooker.

 

Patrick Lambie kicking. His try was disallowed as the pass by Jean de Villiers was ruled a forward pass. A decision that I firmly believe was wrong.

 

Steyn made the score 8-6 to Australia with a penalty in the 54th minute and then put them in the lead for the first time, from a drop kick five minutes later.

 

O'Connor dealt with the immense pressure to put Australia back in front from a penalty nine minutes from time and from then on they were able to keep the Springboks out of drop goal distance for the rest of the contest to end the Springboks' reign as world champions.

 

James O'Conner shown here kept his cool and kicked the winning penalty in the dying  minutes of the match.

 

Result:

 

Australia 11 (James Horwill try; James O'Connor 2 pen) South Africa 9 (Morne Steyn 2 pen, drop goal)

 

My reaction on the referee bashing that went on after the match

 

As a general rule I watch the rugby not the referee.

 

This of course doesn’t mean that I don’t shout at the referee (even in front of the TV knowing pretty well that he can’t hear me) when he makes mistakes. I can see when the referee has a bad game and of course I get upset but I am, as a spectator, more interested in how we play; what do we do with the ball; our structures and systems at the tackle ball; our game tactics; what are the script we are following; our defensive patterns; are we showing improvement on previous games in areas we didn’t do well; how is our scrum going; are we using starter moves; running angles of the backline; how well is No10 dictating the match and were does he takes his position behind the scrums, at rucks and line-outs and so forth.

 

A consequence of all that is that I tend to reflect more on why didn’t we get things right or what went wrong and what can we improve -independent of whether we lose or win- after the match.

 

I don’t do referee bashing.

 

My life philosophy is NO BLAMING is allowed. Take full responsibility for everything in your life.

 

As an athlete or a coach I believe that is the only way you can move forward. Focus on things you can control and don’t get emotional about things which are out of your control. As a team you can control how you go into contact, how well you protect the ball, whether you go to ground or stay upright as you go into contact, whether you actually go into contact or avoid it by reverting to off-load or attacking space. You also have the choice how you go about your business on the field. If the referee start penalizing you (or don’t penalize the opposition) you have a choice whether you persist with a strategy which kept the referee’s decision making -in that particular facet of the game- in play or not.

 

Australia made 147 tackles against South Africa on the weekend; relying on defence to soak up everything the Springboks could throw at them.

 

Schalk Burger getting tackled and stopped just short of the goal line

 

Pierre Spies getting tackled by McCabe 

 

The general rule is more tackles equals more penalties and before the quarter-final Australia’s tackle/penalty ratio stood at 8.3 tackles per penalty.

 

In the build-up to the match, Australia was well aware that the Wallabies had to tighten up in this area against the Springboks. “Morné Steyn’s a fantastic kicker,” said the captain. “You’ve got to be aware that their goal-kicking ability is pretty strong across the board. You can’t give away silly penalties to allow them three points at goal.”

 

True to Horwill’s word and despite being under immense pressure from the Springboks in their own half for the majority of the match – South Africa claimed 76 per cent of territory – Australia conceded just six penalties at a ratio of 24.5 tackles per penalty, almost three times better than their tournament average.

 

Astonishingly, with South Africa desperately chasing a result, Australia’s ratio was 42.5 tackles per penalty in the second half, a statistic that illustrated just how well the Wallabies dealt with the pressure yet still managed to starve the Springboks of opportunities.

 

Most importantly, when Australia conceded penalties they did so in relatively safe areas. Of the six penalties they gave to South Africa, one was kicked for touch from well inside their own half, one was kicked to touch for a lineout on Australia’s five-metre line, two were successfully kicked and two were just outside Steyn’s range on halfway.

 

Australia’s discipline was so strong and their tactics so successful that even with 84 per cent of first half territory South Africa did not get their first points on the board, a Steyn penalty, until the 39th minute. The Springboks had never had to wait longer for points in an RWC match.

 

Despite the penalty risks involved, the Wallabies still went after the breakdown, with Pocock – whose performance Robbie Deans later described as “immense” and “bigger than he got credit for” – the key man in contesting possession at the tackle area.

 

He was a constant thorn in South Africa’s side, combining precise timing and strong body positioning to spoil plenty of Springboks’ ball. Most notably, Australia could boast a handful of turnovers from inside their own 22, and Pocock was responsible for at least three of them.

 

Now you can use those statistics to argue how poor the referee actually was on the day. That sort of turnaround in tackle/penalty ratio is astounding and one cannot but wonder about the referee’s influence on it.

 

For the conspirators here is some thoughts:

 

Was it really a coincidence that referee (is it fair to call him that?) Bryce Lawrence was given the most crucial Group C match?

 

Bryce Lawrence showing he is in charge

 

Is it coincidence that he had an “off-day” and through sometimes strange decisions knocked the strongest of the Group C contender’s right into South Africa’s path?

 

Well, if you look at the incident on its own, then yes, this can in fact be seen as only that …. A coincidence?

 

Everyone now and then has an off-day, so why shouldn’t referees have one? They’re human after all, aren’t they? Bryce Lawrence admits as much when he said that he “might’ve made a few errors” that “might’ve cost Australia the game”.

 

But was it really that, just a coincidence? I certainly don’t believe so. Wouldn’t it have made it that much easier to manipulate a game when you’re almost assured that there wouldn’t be much to choose between two teams from the start?

 

Then Bryce Lawrence, although he changed the whole complexion of a Group, get (yet again) the most crucial Quarterfinal Match (from a New Zealand perspective anyway) and (another coincidence?) had yet another off-day, knocking the strongest of the two contenders out of the World Cup and out of New Zealand’s way!

 

Problem for Bryce Lawrence was the difference between the two teams on the day was not marginal as expected (although the scoreboard suggests that).

 

The margin between the two teams was huge, making “what needed to be done”, that more obvious.

 

One has to ask how much credit can the Wallabies really take for that turnaround and how much of the credit need to go to the referee. Considering the amount of criticism dished out to Bryce Lawrence from all possible corners of the rugby world it is clear that the Wallabies can’t take all the credit for that remarkable turnaround.

 

However, it is interesting to note that as part of this strategy to reduce the amount of penalties at the tackle they also made sure that Lawrence got severely criticized in the media for the way he refereed the Aussie/Ireland game.

 

They attacked the problem from two angles; their own play on the park; but also by putting pressure on the referee.

 

Now, listen to John Smit after the match: “We decided to be brave and keep the ball and you’d normally be rewarded as an attacking team, but it wasn’t quite that way tonight. It’s the first time I have lost a game on the scoreboard and won it every other way from a stats point of view.

 

They knew they were playing the best ball pilfering flanker in the tournament yet they decided to run the ball at them. Not only that they persisted with it. Even worse they kept on utilizing their possession in a way that played into the hands of Pocock and the Australian team and which kept the referee’s inability to adjudicate the tackle ball in play.

 

The Springboks were reluctant to try anything different in attack. They opted for physical, direct ball-carrying in narrow channels even when Australia was clearly tiring.

 

Schalk Burger getting stopped just short of the line. Notice the high number of Wallabies commiting towards the tackle ball.

 

The lack of invention was costly. Well into the second half, from turnovers in Australia’s 22, Jannie du Plessis, Danie Rossouw and Schalk Burger were guilty of carrying attacking ball into heavy contact when there were better, quicker options wide outside them.

 

There is an old truism that states that attack is the best form of defence. So I have no problem with the decision to run with the ball. What I does find disturbing is the inability to change tactics when they saw the referee is allowing Pocock to get away with murder. Also there was ample opportunity to dropkick so why didn’t they opt for that when it became obvious that they couldn’t breach the defensive line and/or force penalties?

 

So we find ourselves after the game with a side who decided to take responsibility for certain things and went about doing that even to the extent that they got into the referee’s head and a side who decided to be ‘brave’ and to do something they haven’t done for 8 years (since Jake White started working with them) and went for a game plan that is generally not regarded as conducive to finals rugby.

 

Who took responsibility to produce a certain outcome and who did not? I am not sure I have the answer. All I know is that the tackle/penalty ratio stats quoted here leave me more than uncomfortable with the referee as does the Springboks decision to be ‘brave’.

 

It was the end of the road for all Four Spingboks shown in the picture above, Schalk Burger, John Smith, Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield.

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