‘Italian Rugby Slays Sad Springboks’ is not a headline anyone would have predicted at the start of the year. The reality is that history has been made with the Italian victory in Florence today.
Italy 20 – Tries: Dries van Schalkwyk, Giovanbattista, Venditti; Conversions: Carlo Canna, Tommaso Boni; Penalties: Edoardo Padovani (2)
South Africa 18 – Tries: Bryan Habana, Damian de Allende; Con: Pat Lambie; Pen: Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies.
Firstly, we need to acknowledge the effort of the Italians. They played to the best of their abilities and were given the opportunity to topple a tier one nation. They converted that opportunity to the delight of every Italian or neutral spectator. The main story to be told here though is the ineptitude of the entire Springbok touring party, from players to coaches.
Italian Rugby Slays Sad Springboks
We take a look at a few of the most important issues that lead up to this dramatic defeat.
Defense Remains a Problem
This is an issue that won’t go away. The Springboks continually make the same errors in defense out wide and often find themselves out numbered and having to drift in an attempt to deflect attacking play. Teams with more attacking intent and more pace on the wings would probably have scored more tries against the Springboks today. Often, the Springboks were too passive in defense and allowed the Italians to build attacking momentum.
Poor Ruck Execution
This is a concern we covered in a previous article — read more here. The sad reality is that nothing has changed over the last couple of weeks. There simply isn’t enough ball pilfering or slowing down of opposition possession. On very few occasions do we see the Springboks rucking over the ball to either gain or protect possession. Pillar defense at ruck time is also scant at best. The inclusion of Nizaam Carr as an open side flanker was not a huge success. He made a few tackles, but was otherwise largely invisible.
Unimaginative Attacking Play
The Springboks relied mostly on line breaks from deep, with Ruan Combrink and Willie le Roux at least giving running the ball a go. Through most of the game the attacking plan seemed to be to pass the ball to the forward hovering on Pat Lambie’s shoulder, in most instances this was either Vincent Koch or Pieter-Steph du Toit. The Springboks most favoured attacking option, the driving maul, was also easily repelled by the Italians, even when down to seven forwards due to a yellow card. Springbok scrumhalf Rudi Paige presented no threat on attack. There were no breaks around the ruck to put some doubt in the minds of the Italians rushing up in defense and Paige was one-dimensional, mostly being a distributor.
The players will need to take a good look into their mirror in the morning and question if their hearts were really into this game. The Springboks inept display will draw a lot of attention to Allister Coetzee‘s coaching ability (more on the below), but the level of silly errors will also need to put into context. The bare basics of catching a ball or passing the ball to another player instead of into touch should not be taught to professional rugby players and the players will have to face that reality.
Confused Coaching Team
Silly errors are one thing, but watching the Springboks look like a lost herd of cattle out on the field makes us question what type of environment Coetzee is trying to establish within the Springbok camp? The players don’t decide that the preferred form of attack is to pass the ball to a forward standing still in center field, the coach dictates that. How to organize a defense around a ruck or how to attack or defend possession at ruck time is not done on an ad-hoc basis.
Each player needs to play a defined role at the ruck and it is impossible to find evidence that this important aspect of play is given much attention out on the training paddock. The lasting impression is that once a player arrives at the breakdown point, the job is done.
The Springboks are very low on confidence, playing a game plan bereft of any attacking flair or real intent. The last time a coach was in this position with a Springbok coach was in 2006, when Jake White was recalled from an End of Year Tour, to appear before the South African Rugby Union executive committee to explain their poor performance. Coetzee should regard himself lucky that he has not been subjected to the same treatment.
After watching this Springbok team play on Saturday, there is one very serious question that needs to be answered:
Has Allister Coetzee lost the support of the Springboks dressing room?