Questionable game management in the dying stages has once again reared its ugly head for the Springboks.
After 20 phases with possession down inside England’s 22, two minutes left on the clock, trailing by one point, the Springboks not only failed to attempt a drop goal, it didn’t seem to be in the thought process at all.
Owen Farrell’s controversial tackle has become the central talking point following the match, taking away from the fact that Springboks have proven once again they don’t handle pressure-cooker late-game situations well.
Incredibly, the Springboks’ last three tests have been decided in the final play and they have come away with one win.
A miraculous rush tackle by Aphiwe Dyantyi that caused Damian McKenzie to spill the ball in Wellington papered over the details in a frantic final two-minute period in the stunning upset over the All Blacks.
It was quickly forgotten how Francois Louw inexplicably dropped the ball cold on halfway with sixty seconds remaining, giving the All Blacks a lifeline to begin with. Handre Pollard then botched an exit kick, giving them another line out from five-metres out. If not for the All Blacks’ own mismanagement and Dyantyi’s clutch play, that game would have been given away as well.
In Pretoria, the Springboks conceded a holding-on penalty that Richie Mo’unga hammered over 60-metres into the corner. A review of the moments preceding that penalty will reveal a wild offload by RG Snyman and poor decision-making by reserve halfback Embrose Papier that left a runner on the next phase isolated.
For all the brilliance of Handre Pollard’s Twickenham performance, his non-involvement at the crucial moments left an opportunity begging. When the final moment was there to bring South Africa home, there was no one stepping up to plate.
It was a shrinking failure made all the more disappointing because both Elton Jantjies and Pollard’s sublime work in the lead up had been the catalyst for a potential last-minute game-winner.
Jantjies, in particular, had come on and immediately sparked the side into life, attacking with fearlessness. That same fearlessness disappeared when it mattered most, backing away from the chance to be the hero.
By the 8th phase, they were into England’s 22. By the 12th phase, they were down to the 11, just to the left of the sticks. All that was needed was one more carry and a shot.
Instead, the next couple of wayward phases left Pollard tackled, isolated, and in danger of getting turned. Jantjies and Pollard combined on a switch play with nothing else on, losing ground and nearly the ball.
Two phases back to the left through the forwards had re-earned the Springboks a position for another titanic ending. Jantjies is in the pocket but starts to walk away, uninterested in the three.
Pollard also looks uninterested in taking little more than a 22-metre chip shot from point blank.
Both keep pushing out left. There is no communication, no urgency and no call for the ball with 90 seconds left in the match. Neither player also seems to be providing direction to the side, leaving reserve halfback Embrose Papier to call the shots and distribute play from the ruck.
From 11-metres out, right in front, the Springboks instead play three runners around the corner towards the left edge off Papier, moving further and further away from the posts.
After only one try in nearly eighty minutes from both sides, what is to be gained by playing phase after phase when you just had two clear opportunities to ice the game?
On the 20th phase, Lood de Jager is stripped by Owen Farrell and loses the ball. Pollard and Jantjies don’t take two legitimate chances to snap a simple dropkick and steal the match.
Given the run of Springboks late-game calamities, the third in a row has highlighted a disturbing lack of late-game composure under pressure. There are questions about the on-field leadership that need to be asked following this collective stage fright. The Springboks need an honest review of this tape and take the learnings forward – it is better to take the shot and miss than not attempt one at all.
After benefitting first-hand from the same situation just weeks ago, it is astounding they didn’t know what to do, and that neither flyhalf wanted to step up and take the moment.
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