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Wallabies accept Springboks’ gracious gift

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By Elisha Pearce, Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    On Saturday morning 8th September, 2012, Heyneke Meyer sits in his Perth hotel room pondering the upcoming Rugby Championship match against Australia. He makes the following notes in his personal diary:

    Dear Rugby gods,

    Please consider my petition. If it be your will, would you encourage the Wallabies to play in this particular fashion, according to this list of rules?

    1. Try to out-kick us from their back three and in midfield.
    2. Kick when in attack instead of using their best runners with the ball.
    3. On that point, only give Digby Ioane the ball one or twice in the first 20minutes.
    4. Play a ‘tight’ game that aims to keep the game close initially.

    Thank you for hearing my plea.

    What’s astonishing about all of these requests – South African fans would agree, they are four things that you’d ask the Wallabies to do if you could – is that the Wallabies played entirely into the Boks’ hands for the entirety of the match.

    They seemed happy to attempt kicking further than their Boks counter-parts, weren’t willing to run it back from deep, didn’t get Ioane involved in any meaningful way and were happy to mostly run through one pass from the ruck.

    And the Wallabies won!

    That’s the remarkable part: the men in gold effectively played away from most of their strengths and won a Test match against a side playing to their own. This goes some way to prove that they do have the requisite passion and desire to perform for their country, after two listless performances against the All Blacks.

    The Wallabies certainly did put a lot of effort into their defence, when the ball is near pay dirt most importantly, but they need to work on this pressure in the midfield. If the defence would stiffen across and outside the 22m line, potential turnovers, errors or penalties from the opposition would result in less clearing kicks and more attacking chances.

    Holding another Rugby Championship team to a single try is still something these 22 can hang their hats on. Not an easy feat.

    That single try confirmed that the Wallabies must become a wall further from their line. The South Africans won a kick chase and had clear ball near the Australian 22m line. From there the Wallabies defence was all over the shop – until the ball was right on the try line. At that point the line of Gold stiffened and it took a very concerted effort from the Boks to get it over the line.

    Further study of the Wallabies defence shows they actually missed more tackles than their counter-parts, with a total of 19. They drop off a runner once every 54 seconds of defence; or one-in-five tackle attempts. South Africa only missed 14 tackles.

    Adam Ashley-Cooper repeatedly bails the side out on defence. He did so against New Zealand a number of times and in Perth he made a super-human tackle of two attackers at once. He saved an almost certain try scoring opportunity.

    Tim Horan wrote an article earlier in the week about how a Test match can be swung on a moment of greatness. The Ashley-Cooper tackle was that moment for the Wallabies this weekend. Make no mistake; this match was that close to a different result.

    Ashley-Cooper finally got to play a test at outside centre again, I think is his best position. I hope he gets to stay there for the rest of the year.

    He cops a lot of flak, but I think he is exactly the kind of glue player every good side needs. His effort won’t ever be found wanting; chasing kicks and restarts like a demon and making all of his tackles. He is the well rounded version of what Robbie Deans was hoping Rob Horne could become, but hasn’t.

    That Ashley-Cooper knows how to run smart attacking lines, almost always gets over the gain line and has a good fend is a bonus.

    The utility value that Ashley-Cooper brings is quite remarkable at this level of rugby. I wrote during the live blog, after a great late clearing kick (his first kick of the game from memory), that he was actually a better fullback than Kurtley Beale right now. I haven’t changed my mind since then. Leave him alone at centre for now though.

    We do need to give Beale some time to get fit and sort out his head. I would advocate giving Bernard Foley or Luke Morahan a chance back there.

    Coming into this match, the Springboks averaged a kick from hand every 35 seconds in 2012. The Wallabies averaged a tactical kick every 49 seconds. During this game both sides drastically lowered those figures.

    The Wallabies kicked 42 times (every 23 seconds in possession) and the Springboks kicked it on ‘only’ 38 occasions (every 27 seconds). I’m not sure why, because the Wallabies only enjoyed 36% territory for the match employing this tactic. This indicated they weren’t able to find the free space or kick as far as the Boks, but continued to give away the ball anyway.

    Why keep doing something that doesn’t work?

    The Wallabies kicked from hand once for every two rucks they formed. I repeat: The Wallabies had 87 rucks/mauls and kicked it away 42 times in the same game.

    That is fairly poor from a national team. This wasn’t played in ugly weather; conditions were perfect in Perth.

    Ashley-Cooper and Deans both said at the half that they needed to stop kicking the ball away and take it down the field in hand more often. The second half saw little real change.

    Kicking this often, especially when it isn’t part of the plan (let’s believe Deans here and ignore the evidence), is a symptom of not trusting team mates.

    One of the foundations of rugby is support. That means being available for a pass and being available to help retain possession. The Wallabies are so fractured at this point that they don’t believe they will receive enough support when they run.

    Berrick Barnes was the worst perpetrator, because he not only returned kicks with kicks, he was also guilty of kicking the ball away in attacking areas. He is surely just keeping the jersey warm until a better option presents itself.

    If he is able to stay fit, Ben Tapuai is eventually the man to eventually play inside centre. For the Reds he has consistently been unable to stay on the field. Hopefully that trend can be arrested. When he played for the Wallabies against Canada last year he seemed to be exactly what our backline needed. He straightened the attack, was explosive and showed offloading ability.

    If Tim Horan is indeed our greatest ever inside centre – as most people agree – then Tapuai fits the mould better than Barnes. An inside centre needs to be strong and able to pass competently, but doesn’t necessary have to carry the playmaker tag.

    As I said at the top, South Africa had everything go their way to win this match. Why didn’t they?

    Meyer prevented them from winning by not delivering the killer blow until it was too late.

    In the middle of the second half, the Wallabies were almost out on their feet. I thought it was time for Johan Goosen and Patrick Lambie to enter the game if the Boks wanted to finish the Wallabies off.

    Meyer didn’t pull the trigger until Ben Alexander had scored in the 69th minute. Too late.

    Once the Wallabies got in front, they were able to repel the fresh green reinforcements just long enough to hold on.

    Between them, Goosen and Lambie made 39 running metres from 19 minutes of game time. Contrast that to Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner who produced 40m across the turf in 145 minutes on the field. That is why South Africa lost this match.

    It wasn’t just their own running metres that improved the side either. As soon as Goosen went on his first gallop, Jean de Villiers and Francois Steyn had more room to operate because of the inside threat.

    Meyer needs to start Lambie at the back in their next match and bring Goosen on much sooner. That is only if F. Steyn or Goosen are considered too unreliable off the tee to jolt Morne from the starting 15.

    (Statistics from www.ruckingoodstats.com and www.rugbystats.com.au )

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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    The Crowd Says (74)

    • Roar Guru

      September 12th 2012 @ 8:14am
      sixo_clock said | September 12th 2012 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Elisha, what strengths could we play to? We were out- talented, muscled, skilled and kicked across the park and only when there were tiny almost imperceptible holes did we bust through for tries. The Wallaby defense was solid and kept us in that game. Now we need, or more accurately would like, patience, composure to build an advantage with the ball, take advantage of the ‘Boks willingness to play the man rather than the pill, multiple short quick ruck phases with the aim to recycle quicker and faster to get them out of position or on the ground. But we don’t have fast quick aggressive players anymore (I feel thanks to professionalism because athleticism rather than cunning and guile get selected first) so to win that way seems to be the modern way. Tragedy, most likely, but unless we can put the gorilla-pro back into the bottle?

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2012 @ 8:42am
        Elisha Pearce said | September 12th 2012 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        I would be willing to put money on the Wallabies having the people needed to get continued recycled ball if the forwards spend all week preparing for it. I can’t believe they wouldn’t enjoy it either!
        Simple way to practise for it 9 on 9 contested training session. 15m wide channel across the field marked out and no kicking allowed. I think they’d work it out pretty fast. Once the forwards work it out bring in the backs too, but still no kicking and only make the field 5m wider.

        Anyway, apart from that, I think we actually showed we could dent their line quite significantly in the forwards. The Boks always land a few big hits, that doesn’t mean we abandon running it. I was never under the impression that as a team we weren’t able to keep possession in the rucks. It didn’t actually seem like we were overpowered, we just ignored that aspect of the game for long periods. It seemed strange to me.

        • Roar Guru

          September 12th 2012 @ 9:34am
          sixo_clock said | September 12th 2012 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          I agree with the recycle method (and liked your training hint) but we don’t see it very much. To plan for ‘fast ruck recycling’ requires a different attitude than the ‘get every extra inch’ currently in vogue, which in turn demonstrates it is not understood. The purpose is to draw penalties or create holes. When this becomes part of the psyche of the forwards we can look eastward to challenge for first spot.

          Better keep your money safely encased in leather for the time being.

        • Roar Guru

          September 12th 2012 @ 10:05am
          Hoy said | September 12th 2012 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          Ahh, Tram Tracks!!!

        • September 12th 2012 @ 3:02pm
          Gavin Fernie said | September 12th 2012 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

          Elisha, thanks for a very entertaining and interesting account of the workings of Meyer’s rugby mind;such as it is. The end result of his plea was to produce a mind numbing display of pointless rugby of biblical proportions from both teams.

          Meyer would love to have Berrick Barnes in his squad; his kicking was even more senseless than that of Morne Steyn. The major difference is that Barnes is capable of intelligent play; Morne Steyn is not.

        • September 13th 2012 @ 12:23am
          bluerose said | September 13th 2012 @ 12:23am | ! Report

          not to mention we also have no idea how to defend an attacking maul.

    • September 12th 2012 @ 8:36am
      Riccardo said | September 12th 2012 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      A fairly accurate summary, Elisha.

      Credit where it’s due. AAC has been superb and the other standout for me is Hooper. Alexander had a good game. Other notables were Timani and TPN.

      It’s important for the Wallabies to celebrate their win and their continued bizarre dominance over the Boks. However, I agree that the Wallabies need to continue to look to improve on their 2nd half performance, particularly with the growing injury count.

      But the reality is that this match was there for the Boks who didn’t take it. The difference Goosen and Lambie made was palpable but too late.

      Meyer appears reluctant to move from the old Bulls gameplans around the Steyns’ boots, in spite of some average returns from a talented roster. Goosen needs more gametime at flyhalf. He presents more options than Morne now.

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2012 @ 8:47am
        Elisha Pearce said | September 12th 2012 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Thanks Ricciardo. I agree that the match was there for the taking for the Boks. I’m not trying to discredit the Wallabies there. It was a great effort to storm over for that try by Alexander and they defended stoutly after that. Its just that there wasn’t any way the Wallabies were going to hold on too much longer with the speed Goosen and Lambie played the game at.

        • September 12th 2012 @ 9:09am
          mania said | September 12th 2012 @ 9:09am | ! Report

          lucky bryce wasnt iinvolved in this one but yet another game between the boks and wb’s where i was scratching my head wondering if either team really wanted to win

    • September 12th 2012 @ 8:53am
      kingplaymaker said | September 12th 2012 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      This article seems to me too negative about the Wallabies. Virtually an entire XV players are injured at the moment.

      • Roar Guru

        September 12th 2012 @ 9:51am
        Rusty said | September 12th 2012 @ 9:51am | ! Report

        really? for this game who?

        • Roar Guru

          September 12th 2012 @ 12:07pm
          jeznez said | September 12th 2012 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

          Rusty, I chucked a list up earlier in the week that included the guys injured in this match, if you just want the ones who couldn’t play before kick off it is:

          1. Kepu
          2. Moore
          3. Palmer
          4. Vickerman
          5. Horwill
          6. Elsom
          7. Pocock
          8. Palu
          9.
          10. Lealiifano
          11. Tomane
          12. McCabe
          13. O’Connor
          14. Vuna
          15. Mitchell

          All of the above are Wallabies with the exception of Lealiifano who was Australia’s best performed 10/12 in Super rugby this year.

          Of the list Vickerman and Elsom are retiring or heading off-shore rather than just injured and we have better options in the starting team than Vuna but otherwise every single one of those players would be considered for selection in the full strength team.

          After the weekend we can now add Genia to the list and only take McCabe off it.

          The good news from this is that the Wallabies have built depth to be able to compete with the Boks even with the names above injured and the likes of Burgess and Giteau having left. The criticisms against the side after their win on the week end are generally tactical rather than the perennial cattle discussion.

          • September 12th 2012 @ 1:09pm
            johnson said | September 12th 2012 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            thats a good interneational side, I dare say we will have more injuries as injured players keep playing as there are no replacements. White is the number 9 missing from your list. He has had his shoulder done.

            • Roar Guru

              September 12th 2012 @ 3:56pm
              jeznez said | September 12th 2012 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

              Johnson, I left White off the list as Deans was ignoring him and apparently went for surgery with the Wallabies management’s blessings. But yes he is the obvious player to name in that hypothetical injured team.

              If you look beyong injuries and note that there are varying degrees of support for the likes of Greg Holmes, Caderyn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Ben Mowen, Ita Vaea, Ben Tapuai, Jesse Mogg, Luke Morahan and Bernard Foley then you start to see where this Wallaby team can pick up from here.

              • September 12th 2012 @ 4:26pm
                johnson said | September 12th 2012 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

                I think its great that we have depth, its something that we have not had in a long time. I remember a time at a prior to a previous world cup when we had sam norton-knight playing fly half as larkhams understudy (and stand in when required) despite no previous experience there because we had no depth. The depth we have now has come a long way from what it was.

              • September 12th 2012 @ 4:38pm
                johnson said | September 12th 2012 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

                I think Barnes was plucked from club rugby soon after to fill the fly half role

          • September 12th 2012 @ 1:39pm
            Colin said | September 12th 2012 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

            Jeznez, the Wallaby depth is actually competing with a young Bok side that has a ‘cobbled together’ look about it, so I’d suggest its not as rosey for the Wallabies as it first appears.

            The Boks are missing Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Pierre Spies… and poor selection decisions like leaving Brussow out of the side.

            Nathan Sharpe had more caps than the entire Sprinbok scrum on Saturday night. No excuses of course, the Wallabies are ranked number two and deserve their position. 🙂

            • September 12th 2012 @ 2:48pm
              Gavin Fernie said | September 12th 2012 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

              Colin, It is quite possible that Juan Smith, who was last at his absolute best back in 2009, will never be the same player he was due to his multiple injuries and advancing (rugby)age. Schalk Burger is out until next year and is not getting any younger. His body has taken a tremendous pounding over the years, and it is unlikely that he can go on for more than say a year or two more(perhaps).

              Pierre Spies has kept his musclebound body intact by appearing in 50 odd tests and only putting his body on the line occasionally. He is not called ‘Powderpuff Pierre’ by many South African rugby followers for nothing.

              Yes, Bismarck du Plessis and J.P Pietersen are two Springboks who are playing the best rugby of their lives, and are crucial to the advancement of the current squad from the Neanderthal rugby cave Meyer has created for them.

              Players like Brussouw, Jaco Taute, Goosen, Jantjies, Francois Hougaard, Francois Steyn, Whitehead, Coenie Ooosthuizen, Francois Louw, Marcel Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi,and others, are capable of forming a Springbok squad of quality; but only if Meyer realizes that it is not only ‘in the movies’ as he so stupidly put it in the media recently, that a team can make optimum use of good ball, that the job of the forwards is to provide ball for the backs, and it is the primary function and purpose of the backs to probe for gaps, and not to kick the ball back to the opposition aimlessly.

              All the truly great Springbok teams have worked on this basic principle. The 1937 Springboks played that way in New Zealand; the 1951/52 Springboks combined teriffic backline play with fast, athletic forwards; not overbulked behemoths crashing into the opposition, to provide a faux flyhalf, who would have been dropped to the F team in old fashioned trials, with ball which he instinctively kicks back to the opposition, following HM’s( His Master’s Voice) instructions. The worst aspect of Morne Steyn’s ineptitude as a flyhalf, is how many times he kicks when he should pass, and how many times he breaks inside when he should pass.

              As recently as 1997, Nick Mallett’s squad played with great flair, with a flyhalf(Lem) who was very special, but was not a particularly devastating line kicker. It can be done, and all one expects is that Meyer work toward that end goal, not pigheadedly try to replicate the Blue Bull crash and bash pattern of play.

              Meyer should be made to study old movies of the great Springbok teams at work. I doubt, however, that it would make the slightest difference.

              • Roar Guru

                September 12th 2012 @ 4:57pm
                biltongbek said | September 12th 2012 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

                We should only hope for the return of bismarck, Schalk and JP Pietersen.

                Juan Smith is unlikely to make it back to a Bok squad, his injury has halted his career.

                Senior players such as Schalk , Jannie du Plessis and Habana could still make the 2015 RWC if they are well managed by their clubs.

                Younger senior players such as Bismarck, Beast, Spies, Frans Steyn, Bekker and JP Pietersen can still play for another 5 years at least.

                There are currently a plethora of young stars waiting to either be called up or simply just get enough exposure at international level that will be the life blood of the springbok for many more years to come. Most of them are under 22 years of age.

                1. Kitshoff (20 yrs) Malherbe (22)
                2.
                3. Coenie Oosthuizen (21)
                4. Etzebeth (20)
                5 Paul Willemse (20)
                6. Marcell Coetzee (20) Siya Kolisi (20)
                7. CJ Stander (22)
                8.
                9. Piet van Zyl (23)Nick Groom (22)
                10. Johan Goosen (20)
                11. Francois Houaard (24) Raymond Rhule (20)
                12. Jan Serfontein (20)Tim Whitehead (24) Marcelle Brache (24)
                13. Paul Jordaan (20)
                14. Willie le Roux (22) Louis Ludick (26)
                15. PAt Lambie (22) Jaco Taute (22)

                Mix these youngsters with the more experienced players over the next few years, then crucially change our attack so our players can play with more freedom and we will challenge anyone.

              • September 12th 2012 @ 7:25pm
                Colin said | September 12th 2012 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

                You make your points well Gavin, you hit the nail on the head in a number of areas. I just can’t understand why coaches like HM ignore the obvious and carry on regardless when it comes to selections.

              • September 13th 2012 @ 2:52am
                steve.h said | September 13th 2012 @ 2:52am | ! Report

                Biltong you missed out Pieter Steph-Du Toit, he covers Lock and No. 8.

                I was at the game and the Bok backline looked so good when Lambie and Goosen came on. They had some good interplay almost reminiscent of Stransky and Joubert for Natal in the 90’s.

              • Roar Guru

                September 13th 2012 @ 3:09am
                biltongbek said | September 13th 2012 @ 3:09am | ! Report

                Steve,mI probably left out some more, it seems my memory is failing me.

              • September 13th 2012 @ 5:42am
                Ben.S said | September 13th 2012 @ 5:42am | ! Report

                biltongbek, CJ Stander has signed with Munster.

            • Roar Guru

              September 12th 2012 @ 3:58pm
              jeznez said | September 12th 2012 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

              Colin, I agree the Boks have issues. Many of them are selection rather than injury based though!

              • September 12th 2012 @ 7:28pm
                Colin said | September 12th 2012 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

                Mostly one problem at the moment, it’s called Heyneke Meyer.

                Both he and Deans seem astute, intelligent men and I can only hope they know what they’re doing in both camps because we need strong international rugby teams and close games, rather than one team dominating everything.

              • Roar Guru

                September 12th 2012 @ 7:42pm
                jeznez said | September 12th 2012 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

                Col, I agree.

                Beyond the injuries in Australian rugby at the moment I am left scratching my head as to why Greg Holmes and Ben Tapuai are continually ignored.

                Not sure why it was so hard to bring in Dom Shipperly nor why we had to destroy Drew Mitchell before picking him.

                There are many selection questions I’d love to hear RD explain.

                I hope both the Boks and WBs rise from where they are – those Kiwis need to be taken down a peg.

              • September 12th 2012 @ 7:46pm
                Colin said | September 12th 2012 @ 7:46pm | ! Report

                Ha, Ha, agreed. To be honest I hear a lot of praise for the ABs and they are very good, but their error rate is horrendous. I think its a case of the Boks and WBs just being poorer at the moment. A concerted effort and some intelligent rugby will unravel them.

      • September 12th 2012 @ 10:20pm
        Superbad said | September 12th 2012 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

        Similarly the Boks have a large number of players injured or in France and Japan

    • September 12th 2012 @ 9:33am
      Deez said | September 12th 2012 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      Nice article Elisha. I think you make a good point about kicking being the result of a lack of trust (both for ruck support and for keeping ball in hand to break/run around the defense). This is where, like it or not, picking players from the same super team(s) and specifically players in form should help.

    • September 12th 2012 @ 10:06am
      Colin said | September 12th 2012 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      Good piece.
      Heyneke Meyer is so busy talking up the other teams that he leaves his own team feeling hopeless. Very frustrating times for both Wallaby and Springbok supporters I should think — both can promise so much more but deliver so little.

    • September 12th 2012 @ 10:47am
      Sage said | September 12th 2012 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      Insightful summary Elisha. Well put together although I’ll take small issue with “meyer prevented them from winning”. I understand your point but I think the 15 desperate gold jerseys out there had more to do with it than Meyers. As you said, requisite desire and passion.

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2012 @ 11:08am
        Elisha Pearce said | September 12th 2012 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Fair call Sage, understand where you’re coming from.
        The Wallabies prevented the Springboks from winning. Meyer took away the Springboks’ best chance though.

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