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Springboks prove that defence do win matches

By Marc Jacobson - Jun 20, 2017
Springboks prove that defence do win matches

South Africa recorded their second victory in two matches so far in 2017, in what was a scintillating victory as they toppled France 37-15 at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Saturday evening.

The win was a special one, not just because it meant the Springboks sweep up the three-match Test Series, but also because of the manner in which they conducted themselves to take opportunities when on offer and execute in many of the right areas of the game.

What was most astonishing in the Springboks’ performance, was their ability to convert their turnover lapse from defence into attack and then into points.

With only 34% possession throughout the whole game and only 25% in the second half alone, the Springboks refuted to be downed, and at the end of the day managed to over-double France’s score. South Africa were also well-seconded in territory (34% to 66%).

Specifically in the second half, the Springboks fell into a weighted defensive lapse, and in one particular scenario, were forced to defend an amassed 27 phases in their own danger zone.

This string of phases sought to drain the Springboks’ stamina, but instead indented France’s ethos as a monumental obstacle for them to overcome as the match continued. After all, in how many instances will teams be palpable enough of diverting that sort of onslaught to that extent?

Lock Franco Mostert was monumental in defence, with a total 24 tackles made, and his partner, Eben Eztebeth made 13, with the lock pairing totalling 37 tackles – almost 21% of the team’s tackle-count.

Profoundly, South Africa made a total 178 tackles to France’s mere 63, with a tackle-completion rate of 88% to France’s 76%. This proved telling on the scoreboard where the Springboks margined convincingly.

As the saying goes, ‘defence wins matches’, and Bulls pivot, Jan Serfontein was exceptional in this regard for the backline centring, with a total 16 tackles made, as well as scoring the first try of the game.

In an attempt to ‘bully’ the Springboks, France certainly did not succeed, as it was South Africa’s pack who held their ground in the set-pieces, in the rucks and were quick enough around the ball and breakdowns to stead their physical attributes both on attack and in defence.

Special concern must be hovering over Tendai Mtawarira’s form through, who looked at times rather shaky at scrum time, with his position in the no.1 jersey probably for the first time in his career under heavy threat to the likes of Steven Kitshoff and even Thomas du Toit who benches the ‘Beast’ at The Sharks.  

Without mentioning the work of the locks though, reserve flank, Jean-Luc du Preez, who came on as a replacement for injured Oupa Mohoje in the opening stages, flexed hard throughout the game with 14 tackles made and six carries, gaining a total 24-metres.

Prop Frans Malherbe made 10 tackles, Captain Warren Whiteley made nine tackles, and other flanker Siya Kolisi produced an absolute industrious performance with 14 tackles, while on attack, made four clean breaks and a resounding 129 gained-metres.

Kolisi scored South Africa’s first try when feeding off of an intercept, and then at the conclusion, was involved in ripping the ball out of France’s grasp on attack, which broke him away for almost half the field’s length, before sucking in two defenders and superbly off-loading to flyhalf Elton Jantjies for the constellation try.

The former Grey High pupil not only had prominent gain-line success, but also had the most ball-carries for the team of 12.

Obviously with the superior possession stakes, France totalled 563 running-metres to South Africa’s 443, and while this is telling, the Springboks gained on average 5.82 metres per run, to the Les Bleus’ 3.14 averaged run-metres; which again emphasizes the shutting Green and Gold defence.

What South Africa were also good at was their scramble defence, and in one particular scenario, the defensive-scrutinized Raymond Rhule, made a sublime try-saving cover tackle from a French breakaway late in the game. To his credit, he totalled 10 tackles throughout the match

South Africa also knew in what areas to capitalise on against a French side who appeared to be in attacking gear for most parts of the game, and as a result, a clinical Springbok attack crossed over the line four times to their twice.

Least saying, France scored their first try by South African-born Scott Spedding in just the third minute of the game, which may not have appeared in-touch, but in other views, rather held up by Eztebeth’s griping arm in the cover tackle.

Nonetheless, the Les Bleus were rewarded for their efforts when they caught a more complacent Springbok defence out, through a try from centre Damian Penaud in the 71st minute.

Full credit must be given to the brainy Brendan Venter, who has been the specialist defensive coach for South Africa this year, and had managed to salvage a tattered 2016 Springbok defence, in which the side lost eight of their 12 Test matches.

Forthcoming, the injury to Mohoje may be deemed a blessing-in-disguise after what du Preez brought to the table on Saturday, while also giving way to the explosive Jaco Kriel to take to the match-23 this coming week in their third and final test at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Not depicted as a dead-rubber game after the Series-clinch, Coach Allister Coetzee is expected to keep continuity in his line-up for this match in a must-win Test regardless.

Centre Jesse Kriel is also back to full fitness, so it will be interesting to see whether Coetzee opts with him or Lionel Mapoe at outside centre. Reserve utility and experienced Frans Steyn is not expected to drop out of the match-23, so it will be either one or the other.

Either way though, Jan Serfontein, the glue that held the backline together in both first two Tests, has definitely cemented his position at inside centre, for now at least.   

Image: Siya Kolisi celebrating his intercept-try with teammates Franco Mostert (left), Eben Eztebeth (middle) and Malcolm Marx (right).