Rugby Union: Not so Super now

Jonathan Davies argues that in Test rugby mistakes cost matches and series
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The Independent Online
If I was Gary Teichmann, the Springboks captain, I would be looking for a cliff to throw myself off. And on my way down I would still be wondering how South Africa managed to lose the Second Test and , with it, the series. In fact, I still cannot believe how their forwards dominated the Lions so brilliantly and yet managed to throw it away.

It was all down to mistakes and indiscipline. Let's not forget the superb and courageous defence of the Lions, the magnificent kicking of Neil Jenkins and that precious talent the Lions possess of always being able to do enough to win the match - but the fact remains that they should not have had a prayer.

By harping on about South Africa's failings I mean no disrespect to a great squad of Lions, but if Jenkins was from Pretoria and not Pontypridd, South Africa would have had it won by half-time. As it was, their kicking at goal was a joke and, for all my admiration and sympathy for Teichmann, who had a terrific game, their lack of tactical awareness was criminal.

I would point to Super 12 rugby as the basic cause of South Africa's downfall. We have all been marvelling at this breathtaking new style of rugby but, for all its positives, there are worrying negatives. And we saw them yesterday. In the fast- flowing Super 12 game mistakes do not seem to matter so much. But in a really tight match every error is liable to be punished. And when points are being scored by the dozen you tend to stop thinking. And there wasn't much thinking being done by the Springboks.

Five Nations rugby might not be as flashy but it teaches you to think, to live off scraps and to knuckle down and grind out a win. That's what the Lions did yesterday. Their performance was full of guts and determination in the face of an opposition who threatened to engulf them.

I could not believe some of the things the South Africans did. The stupid penalties they gave away when they knew Jenks was waiting to kill them, and the lack of up-and-under they tried when it was obvious the panic they were causing in the Lions' defence. And what gave the Springboks most trouble? The up and unders from the Lions -- they missed loads of them because there was no communication between those trying to catch the ball.

As for the kicking at goal; how on earth can you have Henry Honiball, a right footer, kicking from the right and Percy Montgomery, a left footer, kicking from the left. School-kids know how daft that is when you have a choice.

And because they were missing so many penalties, they had nothing to build on. The Lions, on the other hand, were taking a hammering, and winning. That makes a big difference. But the Springboks seemed oblivious to the fact that they were on top and losing at the same time. No one thought to question whether a change of tactics would help. They were pig-headed enough to think it would all come good in the end like it does in the Super 12s.

But with Jeremy Davidson doing great work in the line-outs, Lawrence Dallaglio and Tim Rodber terrific in defence and Scott Gibbs playing Hercules at the the back, all the South Africans achieved was to create the opportunity for the Lions to be heroes.

And just the Lions looked as if they might crumbled, a player like Andre Venter would commit an ridiculous foul and the Lions would have a penalty.

I have to admit that the French referee was not too hot on governing the rucks and mauls and the Lions may have benefited from his decisions. But that is not enough to let the South Africans escape the criticism that their own naivety cost them dear.

INDEPENDENT on Sunday readers will join with his colleagues on the sports desk in expressing our deepest sympathy to Jonathan Davies following the death of his wife, Karen, last week. Karen, aged 34 and mother of Scott, Grace and Geena, had fought a long and courageous battle against cancer. It was her wish that, come what may, he should complete his weekly assessments of the Lions tour matches.