Good intentions an empty reward for White's gamble

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The Independent Online

The new edition of the IRB yearbook published this week states that the last time these two sides met, Ireland murdered the Springboks 55-6. That is some claim and it will be news to Springbok coach Jake White. The truth, as opposed to the publication's absurd error, is that Ireland won 17-12.

But there were times during last night's meeting at Lansdowne Road when you wondered whether something like that fantasy score might actually unfold. Had Ireland not allowed themselves to be sucked into the type of scrappy game South Africa were playing in the second half, they would surely have scored far more.

South Africa came out of the starting blocks like a racehorse threatening to run right away from the opposition. Unfortunately, they then veered alarmingly off course and disappeared from sight as the home favourites took control. If international rugby awarded points just for attacking intent, for a willingness to be creative and show opportunism and variety, then the Boks would have been deserved recipients. Unfortunately, a side as cobbled together as this outfit was punished by an Irish side timing their run to next year's World Cup with increasing impressiveness.

No team can afford to slip as many tackles as the Springboks did last night. No side can manage to lose so much of their own line-out ball, especially in perilous positions, as the visitors did. And a team at this level so lacking in cohesion, are always going to be exposed by a side as good as Ireland currently are.

There were some things to applaud from the South Africans. Their attacking intent and willingness to play a fast, inventive game was commendable.

But you have to do the basics first to play that sort of game and the South Africans weren't getting even halfway towards doing that for most of the time. A flood of missed tackles opened up gaping holes in their defence and some poor technical play, as when Jaco Pretorius and Bevin Fortuin allowed a high kick by Ronan O'Gara to bounce twice in their 22, was ridiculous. Add to that the number of times referee Paul Honiss penalised Springbok players on the ground, and you have a litany of woes.

The makeshift South African back line struggled to cut down the space that the Irish midfield found. Mind you, the Springbok back-row men were missing crucial tackles all over the field, particularly Pierre Spies and Danie Rossouw. Fly-half Andre Pretorius was equally exposed on occasions. And when centre Jean de Villiers cleared one second-half ball from a ruck and hurled a long miss pass to tight-head prop CJ van der Linde, it seemed the perfect commentary on the team's general muddle.

Coach White had gambled like a high roller in Vegas. He'd left at home many experienced players and then compounded the weakness by leaving on the bench some of the few players able to provide a stern challenge, like Johann Muller and Jacques Cronje. The South Africans impressed few in the Dublin crowd. They struggled to control the ball, tie in the Irish forwards around the fringes or subdue the charges into space. Big Paul O'Connell thrust players aside like a man swots a fly before launching one powerful charge into the South Africans' 22.

Frankly, it became such a messy, one-sided contest as the unimpressive Boks tried to play catch-up rugby in the second half, that it began to be reminiscent of South Africa's travails in the first half of the Tri-Nations, back in July. That is the worst indictment.