10 June 2013
The Springboks began their 2013 international campaign with a somewhat flattering 44-10 victory over Italy at Growthpoint Kings Park on Saturday. There was some sparkling play from the men in green and gold, but there is clearly a lot to work on too as some areas of their play were sub-standard.
“We are a new side … and there’s a lot that went wrong and a lot that went right,” man of the match Bryan Habana said afterwards.
The bottom line was that it was a good result against a side that defeated France and Ireland in the Six Nations Championship, but there were clear signs of the limited amount of time the South African team had spent together in preparation for the test.
‘South Africa deserved the win’
“South Africa deserved the win,” Italian captain Sergio Parisse said at the after- match presentations.
“South Africa put us under pressure in the lineouts. The scrums were a little difficult in the first half. In the second half we dominated, but it’s not enough to win a match.”
Coaches want to see 80 minutes of good rugby from their teams, but Bok coach Heynecke Meyer received a good opening and closing 20 minutes from his charges, along with a worryingly poor period of play in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
‘A bit of a slump’
“We had a bit of a slump in the middle of the game, but I thought we came back nicely in the latter stages of the second half. The subs that came on made a massive difference. That’s what you want. You want 23 guys playing a part in the game and definitely everyone played their part tonight,” said Springbok captain Jean de Villiers.
Make no mistake, though, despite some of the problems there was more than enough to be happy about as the side’s debutants made their mark in the victory. At the back, Willie le Roux looked assured, both on attack and defence, and he certainly lent an attacking edge to the Springbok offence that was noticeably absent when Zane Kirchner wore the number 15 jersey.
There was some good and some average play from JJ Engelbrecht in the centre. He scored South Africa’s first try and should have had a second, but had the ball knocked out of his grasp in the act of going over the Italian try line.
Jano Vermaak, at scrumhalf, was solid and his passing was good until he very unfortunately did a hamstring in, which means he will miss the rest of the Castle Lager Incoming Series competition.
Arno Botha put in a wholehearted performance on the flank, but his play needs a little more focus and less of a frenetic effort.
When they came on, newcomers Trevor Nyakane (prop) and Jan Serfontein (centre) did not look out of place.
“Each of those guys deserve to be here and they made an impact,” Bok skipper De Villiers reckoned. “They brought a new flavour to the team and that energy they brought was fantastic. They’ll play a lot more test for South Africa, you can be sure of that.”
Man of the match
However, it was one of the most experienced players in the team, Bryan Habana, who was a deserved winner of the man of the match award. He was industrious throughout the contest and always a danger, making excellent ground time after time.
He set up Engelbrecht up for the first try of the game by sniping through a gap and later scored a splendid solo try after fielding a clearing kick on the right touchline before cutting inside and sprinting clear through a small gap in the Italian defence.
“I was very happy with Bryan’s performance,” coach Heyneke Meyer said afterwards. “It seems that when he is playing well, the team is doing well too. He is still enjoying his rugby and I asked him to express himself out there, which he did.”
Assured and commanding
At flyhalf, Morne Steyn was assured and commanding and his kicking exemplary as he landed every kick he took at goal, four conversions and three penalties, for a personal tally of 17 points.
In the pack, hooker Adriaan Strauss, in typical fashion, led from the front and was strong in carrying the ball up. Flank Francois Louw continued the fine form he exhibited for the Boks last year and lock Eben Etzebeth brought plenty of physicality to the battle.
On the negative side, the Springboks fielding of kick offs was appalling. At times they failed to get even a hand on the ball, allowing it to bounce or be caught by Italy. This led to the Italians dominating the possession stakes by 57 percent to 43 percent.
“We can always improve our set pieces,” De Villiers admitted.
The Six Nations side also ruled the roost in the set scrums in the second half, twice blowing the Boks off the ball and earning penalties. It’s true that the front row is the hardest aspect of the game to police and Italy might have got away with a thing or two, but if it had been the Boks, the local supporters would have been applauding them.
For the 20 minutes after the start of the second half, there was also too little pressure on Italy around the loose scrums, which allowed them to gain momentum by continuously breaking the advantage line. Their only try of the game came during this period of the match and when Alberto Sgarbi went it over it was just reward for the visitors’ dominance.
Apart from Engelbrecht and Habana, Strauss went over the try line for the Springboks after a perfectly executed maul, while Bjorn Basson and Jean de Villiers added five-pointers too.
Basson first set up de Villiers for a try on the left after cleverly drawing two players and releasing a short pass to the Bok skipper. He later seized on a loose Italian pass to toe ahead before gathering the ball and going over. It was a solid game from the right wing, but he let himself down by getting sent to the sin bin for a high tackle.
In Saturday’s other Castle Incoming Series test, Samoa scored their first ever victory over Scotland, winning 27-17 in a curtain-raiser to the South Africa versus Italy clash.
This coming Saturday, Samoa face Italy at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, followed by the Springboks against Scotland.
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