Conservative Springboks out of ideas
November 20, 2010
South Africa skipper Victor Matfield reflects on defeat © Getty Images
It's been coming. South Africa's miserable season will not have a happy ending after their loss to Scotland at Murrayfield, with their hopes of a first Grand Slam tour since 1960-61 being extinguished by a generous helping of Scottish grit and a deluge from the Edinburgh sky.
After the trials of their desperate Tri-Nations campaign, victories over Ireland and Wales were served up by the misfiring home sides but there was always the sense that further disaster loomed just around the corner. A difficult week for the tourists began with the troubling news of Bjorn Basson and Chiliboy Ralepelle's failed drugs tests, took in Bryan Habana's broken hand and meandered towards its Murrayfield denouement, where they were comprehensively outfought by a Scottish side fresh from shipping 49 points against New Zealand.
Scotland were considerably better this weekend but had to do only the basics to get the job done, so intent were South Africa on making errors behind the gainline while also contriving to lose their way at the lineout, usually such a pillar of strength even in the most difficult of games.
Their conservative power game didn't scare Scotland and they were clueless when looking for Plan B. Last weekend's All Black shellacking highlighted Scotland's lack of dynamism and also their susceptibility to an attack based on pace and offloading - something that must have passed the Springbok camp by during this week's preparations.
A side boasting Gio Aplon, Lwazi Mvovo, Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers in its backline and an athletic No.8 in Ryan Kankowski is capable of playing at pace and stretching any opposition. Morne Steyn's merciless, aimless kicking game ensured that Scotland feasted on 60% possession however and the regularity of South Africa's mistakes meant that there was little chance of them causing too many problems for a Scottish side that is nothing if not organised.
Andy Robinson will rightly be thrilled with his second southern hemisphere scalp in as many Novembers but he will also find plenty to chew over when he comes to analyse the game on Monday. Scotland were at times put under pressure by a hesitant performance from skipper Rory Lawson at scrum-half and also remain unable to round off chances with ball in hand - thankfully for them the Springboks, and referee Stuart Dickinson, were happy to oblige with plenty of kickable penalties.
Regardless of their faults, Robinson can be very proud of his players' response to a horror show against the All Blacks. They could quite easily have been 12-0 down early on only for Steyns Frans and Morne to miss a couple of penalties, but they reacted well to claw back the six points asked of them and from there kept the scoreboard ticking over regularly. At times they attacked with purpose with a good Sean Lamont line from a set move and two excellent bursts from No.8 Richie Vernon, a different proposition entirely from seven days ago, proving to be highlights for a sparse crowd.
This weekend's effort was far closer to the model Robinson crafted with victory over Ireland and Argentina earlier this year and the result ensures that, regardless of what happened in round one, they will emerge from this November's exertions in credit.
South Africa's tour closer at Twickenham will not be the crowning occasion that they hoped it might be but it remains an important challenge heading into World Cup year. Every game from here on in can be viewed as having stand-alone importance in building for the tournament, these small battles will be building blocks in winning the war in New Zealand.
Closing this season with back-to-back losses will be exactly the result feared by some fans and commentators in South Africa - with England in resurgent mood that eventuality is not exactly a flight of fancy. Peter De Villiers survived to fight another day after the Tri-Nations debacle and it's about time that the faith was repaid before the ever-changing game passes South Africa by.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.