Durban — Not one Springbok fan would have disagreed with coach Jacques Nienaber when he said after his team’s defeat of the Pumas that “we’re not where we want to be yet”, and nearly everyone would reckon it is, in fact, a massive understatement.
It was the way the Boks went about their Mission Impossible of overhauling the All Blacks that is of concern and I am not talking about their effort, which could not be faulted. What we saw was a complete reliance on the driving maul to score points and while I understand the Boks are extremely good at it and you want to use your best tools, there needs to be variety, also.
Just about the first and only time the Boks ran the ball, they looked very handy and Kurt-Lee Arendse scored.
There were extenuating circumstances, of course, in that the Boks did not have a genuine flyhalf for this match. Let’s be honest, as much as Frans Steyn was talked up prior to the game, he hadn’t played in the position for 14 years, and it showed.
He looked pedestrian, clumsy, and bereft of authority and the backs just didn’t attack. The reality for Steyn at age 35 is that he can still contribute some classy cameos off the bench and that should be his sole role.
Nienaber was in a tight corner with the flyhalf situation, with Handre Pollard and Damian Willemse injured and Elton Jantjies indisposed, but if I was Nienaber I would have persuaded Morne Steyn to come out of international retirement for one game.
The Boks are next in action against Ireland, the No 1 ranked team in the world, in Dublin in November, and sorting out the flyhalf pecking order will be a priority for the four-match tour which also includes box office smashes with England and France.
“We’re not where we want to be yet,” Nienaber said after the 38-21 win. “We need consistency, and we’ll get a pretty good idea of where we are on our end-of-year tour. We play No 1 (Ireland) and No 2 (France) in the world and we have an SA ‘A’ side travelling with us, so it will be a challenging tour. But it will give us nice answers as to where we are.”
Encouragingly, the 17-point victory in Durban followed back-to-back 16-point victories as the Boks rebounded from a depressing defeat to the Wallabies in Adelaide with three wins in a row — against Australia and Argentina (twice)
“I am just glad that we could repay the fans. They’re probably the heroes of the Rugby Championship in my opinion – we had three sell-out crowds, and we lost the one in Johannesburg but I thought we gave it as big a crack as we could in the other two.”
Nienaber noted that he had used 34 players in the tournament and that some questions had been answered over position depth.
“We built some squad depth. Some players got some experience but that wasn’t the main aim – which was to win the Rugby Championship and we fell short of that. But there were some positives to take out of it,” he said.
“We are in a better position now in terms of learning about certain positions than we were when we started. There was always this big issue around flyhalf and whether Damian (Willemse) could play there and hats off to Frans (Steyn) today, in a very short space of time he had to slot in and he will just get better in terms of that.
“We’ve also had Kurt-Lee (Arendse) and Canan (Moodie) come through and now Cheslin (Kolbe) has to perform if he wants to get back in – but we know he is quality, and we look forward to welcoming him back on the November tour.”