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Springboks’ back-three lack significant integrity ahead of All Blacks clash

By Marc Jacobson - Sep 15, 2017
Springboks’ back-three lack significant integrity ahead of All Blacks clash

With the 94th Test match between old, traditional foes New Zealand and South Africa about to unravel at the North Harbour Stadium in Albany on Saturday (09:35 kick-off SA time), the Springboks seemingly look rather bare in various departments in taking on the world’s no.1 side.

Specifically, it is the Springboks’ back three who have lacked a real level of integrity over their three-match 2017 Rugby Championship campaign so far, as opposed to their All Black counterparts.

The Springboks have without doubt displayed winning performances, even in their lock draw against Australia on Saturday, and have vastly improved since their dreadful 2016 season, but their back three have lacked a sense of stability both on attack and defence, and this can be a cause of real concern against an All Black outside outfit displaying quite the opposite.

In the likes of wings Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule and fullback Andries Coetzee, who have all consistently been selected in the starting line-up this year due to coach Allister Coetzee’s ongoing selection policy of ‘continuity’, the Springboks have looked rather bare out at the flanks and back, due to a vulnerability that exists in the back three.

Lethal lightweight, Damian McKenzie has started every match at fullback for the All Blacks, but their wings have been slightly tinkered throughout the Rugby Championship, with Rieko Ioane being rested against Argentina on Saturday, while stalwart Ben Smith having opted out for a sabbatical for the rest of the year. Smith was replaced by Nehe Milner-Skudder, and Ioane by Israel Dagg on Saturday.

However, Ioane, along with McKenzie and Milner-Skudder will boast the All Black back three this weekend against the Springboks, who have all posed threatening and contributed much so far in the Rugby Championship.

Over all three matches so far, the Springboks have only ran in a combined 362 go-forward metres in their back three, while the All Blacks have almost doubled that with 634 go-forward metres.

Ioane specifically, who even missed last week, ran in an astounding 132-metres and 122-metres in their two matches against the Wallabies respectively, so his return will also be telling this weekend.

Only Coetzee has been slightly effective with running in space with 95-metres, 79-metres and 22-metres go-forward runs respectively, but his wings, Skosan and Rhule, have had little impact, a part from the Springboks’ first 37-15 drubbing over Argentina in Port Elizabeth a month ago.

The New Zealand back three has also made a combined 26 clean breaks, to 20 from South Africa, and had beaten 35 defenders to South Africa’s 21. On defence, the Springboks back three have made more tackles of 37 to the All Blacks’ 26, but at the same time, have missed more tackles of 19 compared to New Zealand’s nine.

Therefore, South Africa’s back three tackle success rate stands at 66.07% to New Zealand’s 74.29%, again another looming concern for the Springboks, come Saturday. Rhule once again has disappointed on defence, missing 13 of those 19 missed tackles – which is something he needs to sharpen up fast, especially after topping Super Rugby’s missed tackles count earlier this year as well.

All the telling statistics tell one side of the variable between New Zealand and South Africa’s outside backs, but on-field decision making and game initiative has also lacked, specifically against Australia on Saturday, which saw the likes of Coetzee and Rhule spinning around the field like wayward tops.

Coetzee specifically, had one of his poorer games, often losing his footing on both defence and attack, while giving away aimless kicks to Australia’s dangerous backs on numerous occasions. A sense of panic seemed to scourge in the Lion’s fullback’s game-play, and he needs to remain more level-headed against a more resilient All Black outfit on Saturday.

Springbok fly-half Elton Jantjies was also found guilty kicking away one or several too many aimless, nothing kicks to feed Australia’s counter-attacks. He kicked a total 19 kicks to Wallabies’ fly-half Bernard Foley’s eight, with 12 passes to his name to Foley’s 21, which speaks volumes on some of the Springboks’ flawed tactics against what was a hungry Australian side.

It would have been different if Jantjies’ kicks were for South Africa’s gain, either through territory or effective up-and-unders, but too few added any impact, and with Foley topping the passing stats, indicates that the Wallabies formed a better overall link in their backline.

Jantjies does blow hot and cold though, and his poor performance against the Wallabies last week could be a blessing in disguise for his redemption against the All Blacks on Saturday.

Another concern for the Springboks is at number eight, where Uzair Cassiem has shown very little contribution, and is at this moment, a mere passenger in the side, and a quiet passenger at that.

Last week, Cassiem only had two carries with no go-forward metres; the previous game against Argentina in Salta, Cassiem made just three carries with only seven go-forward metres. Last week he also made just six tackles and the previous game just four tackles.

This flashes red in a side just about to face an exposing All Black side looking to compensate on weaknesses – so for Cassiem, he either has to carry his own weight in the side, or the rest of the forwards will be forced to carry his weight, again.

The Springboks do have strengths though, specifically in their tight-five, flanks and in their set-pieces – where they can really gain ascendency against the All Blacks. The South Africans also have a potent bench, with the likes of Steven Kitshoff, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lood de Jager and even Handre Pollard, capable of sparking their game in the second half.

Also, if Jantjies is switched on, who knows what can happen, but every player in the green and gold has to rise above the bar if they want to beat the All Blacks on Saturday.

Image: Raymond Rhule (left) and Courtnall Skosan (right) in Springbok colours.