Regardless of the final score, South Africa must learn from the comprehensive nature of New Zealand’s victory on Saturday.
On paper, losing 20-18 to World Champions New Zealand in a semi-final is no disgrace, even for South Africa.
For all their courage and dependability in defence and admirable discipline in the face of constant All Black attacks, this really wasn’t a two-point game. The Springboks came up well short, making just 146 metres carrying, compared to New Zealand’s 398 and beating just three defenders compared to 19 (via BBC Sport) in a display typically short of invention.
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Outscored two tries to nil, Heyneke Meyer’s strategy prioritising power and physicality was highlighted as limited at the highest level. South Africa are the best at a game plan. which Wales and Ireland under Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt respectively have sought to replicate, but was always likely to come up short on Saturday.
Just one game away from potentially becoming the first nation to win the Rugby World Cup on three occasions and the first side to win successive tournaments, New Zealand were heavy favourites.
Since 2011, Steve Hansen’s side have lost just three test matches, however, a common theme lies in each of these setbacks. England’s 38-21 win at Twickenham in 2012 saw them match the All Blacks’ scoring, with three tries each.
Similarly during last year’s Rugby Championship, South Africa themselves prevailed 27-25 having scored three tries, just as the Kiwis did. And finally this year’s championship decider, which saw the birth of the David Pocock-Michael Hooper combination, was decided by Australia scoring three tries to New Zealand’s two.
The obvious conclusion here is that New Zealand won’t be beaten by penalties alone. Regardless of the threat the All Blacks pose on the counter-attack or off turnover ball, opposition sides must be bold in order to prevail. Despite their commitment to the physical battle, the Springboks lacked bravery in attacks with New Zealand happy at times to allow them possession.
All Blacks too good for Springboks
Though the rain altered the match in the last 25 minutes, South Africa needed to recognise that Handre Pollard’s boot couldn’t be their sole answer. Following Jesse Kriel’s break at the beginning of the first-half, the Boks never looked like breaching the New Zealand try line thereafter, whilst JP Pietersen touched the ball twice in the entire game.
Most frustratingly, South Africa can pose a real threat in attack. The three-quarters of Pollard, Damian de Allende and Kriel added to the elusive running of Willie Le Roux, makes for a hugely exciting backline, however, in high-pressure environments they all too quickly revert to one out runners and high balls.
Pollard has been widely criticised for his poor kicking display out of hand, however, the limited space he was afforded to aim at, due to his side’s lack of ingenuity going forward, made this is an almost impossible task. The back three of Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea could afford to sit deep in defence, confident that the Springboks were more comfortable in their low-risk strategy.
Meyer to hold onto job?
Having scraped past Wales, thanks to a single moment of magic by Duane Vermeulen, and recovering from the shock 32-30 loss to Japan to reach the semi-final, Meyer may just hold on to his job after Friday’s third place play-off. If the former Leicester Tigers coach is so fortunate, he, along with this exciting group of emerging youngsters, must seek to establish a bolder approach to big games.
As Argentina highlighted, it is possible to play too much rugby in these tight encounters and against anyone else, the Springboks may well have progressed to their third final.
As demonstrated by their demolition of France a week ago, when required and when given the opportunities, Richie McCaw’s men are the most clinical, creative and cunning team around. Next week’s final against Australia is far from a formality but the Wallabies will undoubtedly be bolder than the fallen Boks.
Were the All Blacks worthy of a bigger scoreline in their semi-final with South Africa? Give your opinion in the comment box below!
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