Springboks draw is just the right tonic for big Test
All Blacks appear out of SA’s reach but Boks will be sober opponents
Perth — Was half a loaf better than nothing for the Springboks after Saturday’s 23-all draw with the Wallabies at nib Stadium?
Clearly not so for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, who lamented that the result was not good enough for his team.
The Boks have gone from strength to strength with each game this season. It was difficult to take the French seriously as they did not take themselves nor their tour seriously.
The methodical dismantling of the Pumas in two Tests pointed to gradual improvement that has been interspersed with sporadic brain fades. One of those was the concession of tries after a try had been scored.
It happened in Salta when Nicolás Sánchez scored after a kick-off was not reclaimed and the same happened on Saturday after Jesse Kriel’s try.
The importance of consolidating of a lead cannot be understated, especially with the All Blacks and their tendency to live off errors looming at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday.
The Boks too lived off Wallabies mistakes. Kriel’s try was a result of the Boks swarming an isolated breakdown, while for Malcolm Marx’s 59th-minute try, the Boks made full use of their powerful scrum.
In their flattering 35-29 win in Dunedin, New Zealand were caught short when Australia flooded the breakdown and their defence was found wanting every time the Wallabies punched close to the ruck and used inside runners.
Nevertheless, the Boks are in a better mental space than before and the draw may have done them a world of good. The last thing they needed was a flattering result only for a humbling against the world champions to put them in their place.
Coetzee knows the Boks are not yet at the same level and pointed out New Zealand’s superior conditioning as one reason, while they seem to find the inside lane on the home strait that is the last quarter. The All Blacks know how to size up the Boks and respond to the physical threat posed by them.
The Boks have to take solace from the fact that they controlled large swathes of the last 20 minutes against Australia even though they failed to seal the deal. Their fightback from 20-10 down was also admirable as teams coached by Coetzee are not renowned for their ability to bounce back.
With the nib Stadium a sea of blue in support of the Super Rugby-axed Western Force, the Boks ran fewer metres, made more tackles and were on the wrong end of the territory and possession statistics, yet they came away with the draw.
Against the All Blacks, that can be a bad thing, but the Boks played within their limitations and struck when the opportunity arose.
The three line breaks in the last 20 minutes could and should have resulted in tries, but Australia’s tenacious, if not illegal, defence ensured they would fight until the last whistle.
Such opportunities must be converted against the All Blacks, but at least the Boks showed they can turn offensive defence into something tangible.
If the Boks’ improvement could be summed up: they are still a fair distance from catching up with the All Blacks, but they will be formidable adversaries.
The British and Irish Lions showcased the value of a bristling pack and slowing the game down. Whether the Boks are capable of doing the latter remains to be seen but they have the pack to worry the All Blacks. After the scare against the Pumas, the All Blacks cannot take anything for granted and neither can the Boks.