It was not a perfect performance from the Springboks in the first Test of the series against England but it was a great start. The 10-try epic was more like a Super Rugby game than a Test match. The visitors scored their tries too easily but the home side registered some amazing five-pointers as well.
The second Test in Bloemfontein on Saturday presents an intriguing challenge for the two defence coaches – Jacques Nienaber and Paul Gustard. The reason the first Test was so erratic was because the defences were quite poor on both sides. By poor, I mean that both teams gifted space and yards.
The main reason the Springboks struggled defensively was because a number of new players came together. The defensive system the Boks would have had in place for the first Test would have been, when in doubt, for the wings to play up and not to hang back. However, said strategy is entirely dependent on the rest of the team generating width. If there is no width and the wings stand up, they get caught out. That is exactly was transpired as England created numbers easily on the outside.
In turn, the English defensive deficiencies were exposed. It was a similar principle but for different reasons. Flyhalf George Ford is not a great defender and Henry Slade is not a natural NO 13, so he got too tight. Meanwhile, Mike Brown has not defended too often on the wing and fullback Elliot Daly didn’t close the gate early enough. Last week’s Man of the Match, Faf de Klerk, poses plenty of questions to the second defender and, if the visitors don’t find a way to close him down, the livewire Sales Sharks scrum-half will tighten up the tourists’ defence. However, Gustard, who will join up with Harlequins, is a quality defence coach and I foresee England getting better width in the second Test.
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In Bloemfontein, I expect the teams to drive more and the aerial contest may well take on greater relevance. England would be crazy not to aerially bombard South Africa’s two young wings. Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi are very talented runners with ball in hand, and both can become superstars, but their fundamental weakness would be their defence, kicking game and receipt of the high balls.
It will be interesting to view how Eddie Jones adapts his approach for the second Test because much is said about his tactical awareness and how effective he is in that area. It will be instructive to see where England attack South Africa because the home team have weaknesses that can be exploited.
Jones has revealed his hand by only making two changes to his starting XV. With Joe Launchbury coming in, and Brad Shields replacing Chris Robshaw, England are expecting a stronger lineout threat from the home side. England were quite thin in the lineout and down on jumpers last weekend, while South Africa’s set-piece play was superb. Franco Mostert called the lineout well and Bongi Mbonambi’s throwing-in was exceptional. England’s backline remains unchanged. Jones may have missed a trick by not shifting Owen Farrell to flyhalf because England have enjoyed the bulk of their success when he has worn the NO 10 jersey. Farrell is a solid defender in the ten channel but Jones doesn’t change his mind easily. He clearly feels that the 10-12 axis is working on attack for England.
Meanwhile, Schalk Brits has been called up to the Springbok squad for the remainder of the series. He is in form at the moment and played great rugby for Saracens this season. However, personally speaking I don’t believe Rassie Erasmus brought Brits in to play. It’s rather to fulfil a mentorship role.
Mbonambi enjoyed a really good Test match and Akker van der Merwe is the future. Prior to Brits’ inclusion, Chiliboy Ralepelle was the third-choice hooker in the group, so I don’t know what the conversation with Chiliboy would have been. However, Schalk is the type of person that gets on with everyone and he won’t bring conflict to the group. The 37-year-old hooker’s experience will prove invaluable for the youngsters in the team but, when it comes down to talking tactics, I don’t foresee him giving away too much inside information about his former Saracens teammates. It’s not the way Schalk is, with the Saracens players in the England fold his friends, having spent 10 years at the club.
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