For all the pre-match purple prose, the Springboks did not respect the occasion on Sunday because if they did they would not have given Australia seven kickable penalties within 40 metres of the tryline, writes Mark Keohane.
The Bok players spoke a great game of respect for the opposition and for the occasion but this did not translate into how they played. They conceded two yellow cards for lack of discipline and 21 points in penalties because of a lack of discipline. That is the result of a team mentally not switched on and a team not respecting the occasion.
The biggest change the Springboks need to make for the return clash is upstairs. Mentally, the world champion Springboks weren’t at the races in the 28-26 defeat against the Wallabies.
With a bit of luck, more accurate goalkicking and a few 50-50 calls going their way, the Boks would have won last Sunday. They were leading 26-25 with 79 minutes and 40 seconds played and they had the scrum feed.
If they had been mentally switched on, that scrum would not have moved, the ball would have been taken up, recycled and booted into touch. We would today be talking about a brave Wallabies effort and an indifferent one from the Boks, in which the world champions got out of jail.
The Boks didn’t control a scrum, they allowed for referee and touchline assistant interpretation and they were rightly penalised for no release on the ground. Referee Luke Pearce was right to penalise the Boks in the final play of the game, but wrong not to have penalised the Wallabies scrum that led to that final play.
Ifs and buts, as former Wallabies midfielder Morgan Turinui so eloquently tweeted is going down a rabbit hole.
Turinui, equally eloquently, also gave me a slap for showing a lack of respect for the occasion in calling the Wallabies wimps and chumps. Others on social media gave me a more crass beating. I deserved it.
A new week, new focus and lessons learned, for me and hopefully the Boks.
Isn’t sport grand….. Not always easy to balance respect with banter in a world that strives for followers and likes… You can do better @mark_keohane Your champion Boks team will bounce back hard and I can’t wait to see if the Wallabies can cope with it. https://t.co/xDxUO0qSn4
— Morgan Turinui (@MorganTurinui) September 13, 2021
The 28-26 result will never be changed and the pain of the loss hopefully will ignite the expected Springboks response. We saw that after the first Test defeat against the British & Irish Lions and we saw how the Springboks reversed the World Cup opening defeat against the All Blacks in going unbeaten for the rest of the tournament and winning the title.
Siya Kolisi’s Boks have shown a capacity to come from behind to triumph. The quality of the squad is not in question and neither is the composition of the side that started against the Wallabies. It is a powerful team and the bench focus was on explosiveness and impact in the six/two split, with Damian Willemse picked to cover multiple positions.
The nature of Handre Pollard’s inconsistency off the tee and the lack of confidence in Willemse’s goalkicking should force a rethink about the bench, with one of Morne Steyn or Elton Jantjies covering the goalkicking. It could also mean a more traditional five forwards and three backs split.
Handre Pollard off the tee this year
Kicks. Opp Points missed
4/5 v 🇬🇪(W 40-9) 2 points
4/6 v 🦁(L 17-22) 5 points
6/8 v 🦁(W 27-9) 5 points
3/5 v 🦁(W 19-16) 6 points
7/7 v 🇦🇷(W 10-29)0 points
4/7 v 🇦🇺(L 26-28) 8 points
28/38 = 73.68% success
75 points scored
26 points missed
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) September 13, 2021
Injuries could also force coach Jacques Nienaber’s hand in making his final selections.
There is nothing fundamental that the Boks have to do differently, outside of back themselves to have a go with ball in hand when it is on.
They scored three tries from driving mauls and in the second half the Boks were a lot stronger defensively in shutting out the Wallabies multiple phase attacks. The Boks have to trust their lineout more and they need to stay switched on every time they have the scrum feed.
They conceded a scrum penalty on half-time and they conceded the match-losing penalty on full-time.
Close encounters are decided by who is mentally the stronger and, on Sunday, the Wallabies were mentally the stronger in how the match finished. They could have crumbled when they went down after having a commanding lead, but they hung in and the lack of concentration and mistakes came from a very experienced and settled Springboks.
The Bok players will be livid because they failed themselves. Their discipline was atrocious and they conceded seven kickable penalties within 40 metres of their posts. That is unforgiveable at any level.
Quade Cooper kicked every one for 21 points, which is the equivalent of three converted tries.
The Boks’ famed rush defence relies on no player missing a one on one tackle, and Australia’s only try came from a straight missed tackle from Faf de Klerk. Australia, thereafter, despite having a lot of the ball, didn’t threaten the Boks tryline.
The Boks, in the build-up, spoke of the respect they had for Australia and for the occasion but their play was not consistent with the pre-match prose because if a team is giving up so many kickable penalties, they are not mentally showing the occasion any respect.
The Boks played as if they didn’t believe they could lose, no matter how many points they gifted Australia, and they came within 20 seconds of being vindicated. But had they survived and won, it would have been a case of winning the battle but losing the war.
The pain of how they lost will be lasting and they will be mentally switched on for the rematch.
Australia, with three wins in 12 matches, before Sunday’s victory, produced a performance that demanded respect.
The challenge for the world champions is to respond with as compelling a statement of intent and produce a performance that demands respect.
This week for the Springboks is about getting their heads right and not looking ahead to the two-Tests against the All Blacks.
The Boks historically have no issue mentally getting up for the All Blacks and England but they don’t always show the same intensity when playing the Wallabies. The Australians also play a far less confrontational type of game and that does depower a lot of what the Boks are about. New Zealand and England tend to get caught up in the physical showdown, whereas the Wallabies so often have tactically been very smart in their approach.
Not enough credit is given to the Wallabies for getting into the heads of the Boks when most teams want to get stuck into the Boks.
I’ve watched the match a few times and the Boks will be fuming that they didn’t win.
Australia got a great result but they will know on another day they were looking at 10-15 defeat.
The margins are small in Test rugby but they become even smaller when points are missed.
The Boks missed 10 and Australia took every point they got, which is why they won.
The Boks discipline was awful, when you add two yellow cards to the 21 points and the four other penalties conceded.
Much has been made about the culture of the Boks in how they won the World Cup and how they won the Lions series. It was a case of ‘no excuses’.
This culture, so celebrated after the World Cup and Lions series, is going to be tested in the next three weeks.
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