'I'm pretty sure it is a tactic': Boks' stalling theatrics deliberate
Although the All Blacks were expecting a traditional approach from the Springboks, there were still aspects of their game that left the coaching staff surprised, including the box kicks being hoisted on the edge of the All Blacks’ 22 metre line.
With his side deep on attack, Springboks scrumhalf Faf de Klerk went to the air multiple times with possession right on the edge of the 22 as he looked for a fatal drop down around the five metres line.
All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree admitted that they had not expected the Springboks’ kicking game to take such an approach when so deep on attack in their territory.
“We didn’t expect that, no,” Plumtree told media on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s definitely a different way to build pressure, isn’t it? The boys were saying there was a little bit of spiralling going on with some of those Faf de Klerk bombs as well. We know what to expect next week now because they’ll definitely bring that again.”
A key part of defusing the aerial game was the direction of the wind which made fielding high balls more difficult in the second half as the ball held up into the breeze.
Plumtree noted there was marked difference in their ability to control the catching in the second half versus the first.
“In the first half we looked after the high balls probably a bit easier because they had quite a strong wind. You might not have picked it up on TV, but the wind was quite strong,” he said.
“In the second half, when they were kicking into it, the balls were holding up longer and the kicks weren’t quite as long. The kicks were going around 11-12 metres, in the first half it was more like 20 metres.
“It’s the one’s that are a bit closer that we will have to work on this week.”
The game against the Springboks was noticeably slow, with a total of 26 penalties creating a stop-start affair that became a set-piece grind.
At every stoppage it seemed like Springbok players were on the ground getting attention, slowing down the game at every opportunity.
A key to controlling the tempo is for the All Blacks to control the ball, which they weren’t able to do in Townsville conceding an astounding 24 turnovers. Plumtree said his side can control the speed if they fix their handling.
“We can play the tempo game if we control the ball. If we don’t control the ball, the game will stop and start,” he said.
Plumtree did say he believed the Springboks stalling is a deliberate tactic to keep the All Blacks from playing their game that ‘no one’ wants to play against them.
“We can’t control the injury thing, if their medics or water boys are coming on. The game just slowed down, so I’m pretty sure it is a tactic,” he said.
“No one wants to play a high speed, up tempo game against us right now, but it is up to the officials to deal with that.”
The Springboks’ tactic worked to a degree to keep the game close, something that head coach Jacques Nienaber said he expected from the two sides who haven’t been separated by much in their last five contests despite South Africa only claiming one win.
“I think we always play gripping and physical [rugby],” Nienaber responded.
“I can’t speak of the past, but since 2018 when I’ve been involved, 2018 in Wellington it was two points to us, came back to Pretoria, two points for them, a 16-all draw in 2019 and then a 10-point victory in the World Cup.
“So, that’s the contest, it’s that type. So, no, I expected it from both sides.”
Nienaber believed his game plan “worked”, but conceded that it sometimes works against the Springboks playing for so many 50-50 aerial contests.
“I thought the game plan worked, I thought we had opportunities, they had opportunities. Listen, it probably came down to the wire, a call here a bounce of the ball there, sometimes it goes for you and sometimes it goes against you.
“[Against the] British and Irish Lions, we won with a penalty kick like this, Australia we lost, New Zealand we lost now with a kick like this. I think it swings in roundabouts.
The head coach was blunt when asked about whether they should have changed their approach in the final few minutes when needing another penalty to get back in the lead.
Reserve halfback Herschel Jantjies hoisted a box kick away with less than a minute remaining with the Springboks down two points, despite being in field position good enough to work for a penalty by keeping possession in hand.
“I don’t think so,” is all Nienaber could muster in response.
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