Peter Bills: South Africa and Australia are playing dumb

South Africa and Australia came close to producing a new version of rugby on Saturday in Pretoria.

It was intrinsically rugby 7s played with 15 men a side, an interesting hybrid which, alas, I don’t think has a future. Neither, for that matter, does either of these teams if they continue to play the game in such a dumb fashion.



Yes, it was entertaining enough if you just want the vicarious pleasure of watching players dive over the whitewash. But for any serious observers of the game it was close to a joke at times. 'Surreal' was how one leading world rugby official called it, and he was right on the money.



Not to put too fine a point on it, it was a kind of rugby diarrhoea. Tries spewed out at regular intervals, with no-one on the field apparently able to control the flow.



There were nine tries scored and only some desperate, scrambling defence by both teams prevented that number being doubled.



Back in New Zealand, there must have been expressions of bemusement mixed with humour on the faces of the All Blacks players and coaches. For this was a game that told us exactly why New Zealand are already home and hosed as 2010 Tri-Nations Champions, not to mention Bledisloe Cup holders yet again.



All the structure, authority and composure the All Blacks have brought to the international game this year, even while playing an open, attacking game, was missing in Pretoria. We had the farcical situation of Australia leading 14-0 after just four minutes, 21-7 after 11 minutes and then 28-17.



Yet all the while, Robbie Deans’ side never had control of the game. At times, it exactly mirrored Sevens – one side scored, the re-start went to the opposition and they scored. Six tries were scored in the first half alone yet of that tally, four were down to gross defensive errors and a fifth came from a forward pass.



Bryan Habana dropped a simple re-start kick and then missed James O'Connor on the outside for one try; Kurtley Beale made the 'Boks defensive line look about as mobile as the Maginot Line with a few sidesteps to open them up, leading to O'Connor's first try and, at the other end, the defence parted like the Red Sea to allow the impressive Juan Smith to steam through to score for South Africa.



That summed up the game, really. Unforced errors lay all over the field, like corpses on a battlefield. Technically, it was pretty lamentable and merely served to confirm New Zealand’s overwhelming technical superiority in their rugby this year.



South Africa won in the end chiefly because of their traditional line-out excellence at critical moments in the crucial final quarter. Leading 34-31 with the game finely balanced, the Springboks seized two vital Wallaby line-out throws which stole away potentially vital attacking platforms deep in the 'Boks 22, from the attacking Australians. Victor Matfield, on his 100th Test cap appearance, reminded us of his timeless ability and those around him deserved praise, too.



Even worse for Deans’ side, they then butchered two simple tries which were there for the taking had their players simply made the ball do the work by taking out opponents with passes. Instead, mindless shifting of the pill across field which allowed the defensive line to drift ruined at least two scores.



Another was saved when impressive half-back Francois Hougaard got across to smash Adam Ashley-Cooper in the tackle, forcing him to spill the ball rather than walk it in over the line.



Australia couldn’t come back after that glut of missed scoring opportunities. But their decision making was awry in the final quarter too, when they turned down kickable penalties for punts into the corner. Their faith in hooker Saia Faingaa’s line-out throws was misplaced.



There was none of the precision or clinical execution we had become accustomed to seeing from the All Blacks this season. Literally, they are in a class of their own on this evidence.



It was helter-skelter type rugby with desperation written all over two ordinary teams. No-one ever really got a grip on the game with some proper structured rugby.



So yes, for the casual observer, it was undoubtedly aesthetically pleasing and a real adrenalin thrill. But don’t believe that all South Africans were fooled. The vast swathes of empty seats in Pretoria, heartland of the South African game, told you plenty about what knowledgeable South Africans think of the present state of their side.



As for the Australians, unless they turn the tables by winning in Bloemfontein this coming Saturday, they look in an even worse state.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Sport
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
football
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas