by Fanie Heyns

North versus South

New Zealand might be celebrating southern Hemisphere domination

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South Africa, Australia and New Zealand might be celebrating southern Hemisphere domination, but the scores were too close for comfort during the weekend. The gap between the top teams of the north and the south might not be as big as is generally perceived. 

The Wallabies were almost denied their win by a dominant Wales team, the Six Nations champions, who outscored the Australians with two tries to one.
It was only a last gasp penalty by Mike Harris after the full time siren that secured a 25-23 Wallaby win in Melbourne.
Welsh skipper Sam Warburton’s young team was on the brink of a first Wales test victory in 43 years against Australia. But poor option taking in the run-up to the final siren contributed to their defeat.
Caretaker coach Rob Howley told afterwards that their emotional intelligence and composure in critical areas might have been the difference between a historical victory and heart-breaking defeat.
In Christchurch, New Zealand earned their last minute 22-19 win over Ireland thanks to an 80th minute drop goal by fly-half, Daniel Carter.
Trailing 16-10 shortly after halftime, Ireland seized the moment with three successful penalty kicks and securing territorial advantage before the All Blacks marched down field in the final three minutes and set up for the drop kick.
South Africa’s magnificent first half composure, characterised by accuracy, ruthlessness at the breakdowns, and superb interplay between backs and forwards, earned a 25-10 lead at half-time against England at Coca-Cola Park.
After the break, England almost erased the deficit and trailed South Africa 31 - 27 at one stage.
They scored a soft try through the scrum-half Ben Youngs when Bismarck du Plessis missed a crucial line out throw on South Africa’s own try line.
Bok replacements – Werner Kruger, Adriaan Strauss, Keegan Daniel and Flip van der Merwe – did not have the desired effect in the scrums and South Africa back paddled after the break. The Boks also did not play with the same aggressive intent in the second half.
The absence of quality prop Coenie Oosthuizen on the substitute bench unfortunately contributed to South Africa’s struggle in the scrums.
Injuries forced Heyneke Meyer to substitute some senior players and the Boks lost accuracy and the composure at the breakdowns after their departure.
But JP Pietersen started and finished a magnificent counter-attack to ensure an excellent 36 - 27 win for the Springboks, and a series win against England.
South Africa produced fifty minutes of superb attacking rugby. Judged on this performance, they will start the Castle Rugby Championships against Argentina, New Zealand and Australia with some confidence.
The Boks will open the new, enlarged four-nation international series against Argentina on 18 August at Newlands.
Francois Hougaard, Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn give South Africa at least five players with the X-factor in the back line.
They could definitely dismantle the sound defense of the Argentinians, while the Bok forwards have shown aggression and purpose at the breakdowns, the line outs and the scrums.
South Africa will, however, have to improve their kicking quality.
Morné Steyn’s place kicking continues to be a source of concern, missing at least four  kicks on Saturday.
Frans Steyn also missed a penalty.
Had South Africa converted these chances, they would have won more handsomely against a strong England team.
The quality of the substitutes is also a source of concern. There surely should be better replacements than Daniel, Kruger and Wynand Olivier.
The loose trio performed excellently. Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts and Pierre Spies showed a lot of cohesion at the breakdowns.
But the Bok management need to do some planning in terms of replacements and hope that Andries Bekker will return to the fray sooner rather than later.
After Juandre Kruger was injured on Saturday, the Boks suddenly looked very thin in terms of a number five"Droid Sans, sans-serif"
Both Eben Etzebeth and Van der Merwe fill the enforcer role á la Bakkies Botha, with Kruger and Bekker the Victor Matfield mold.
Hougaard’s first test form had some critics asking Meyer to select Pienaar in the starting"Droid Sans, sans-serif"
But the Bulls scrum-half played with more urgency and accuracy on Saturday. He was aided by the Springbok forwards who cleaned out superbly at the breakdowns and collisions, especially in the first half.
Consequently, Hougaard was given carte blanche to execute his passing game and he seldom dropped a ball at the breakdowns. He also scored a fine try in the first half.
The Springboks still need the back three, Habana, Pietersen and Patrick Lambie, to make a nuisance of themselves by cutting in between the fly-half and inside centre.  Here they can create extra space for the three quarters in conventional movements, much as the All Blacks often do.
The weekend’s matches showed that with solid defense and structure, very little might separate the top nation in the world from the number five or number six ranked teams in the world.
It is the small things that separate the winners from the losers. That is why immaculate place kicking is crucial.
If Carter and Harris were just marginally mediocre, Wales would have won, and Ireland would have escaped with a draw.
That is why the Boks need Steyn to return to his former glory with the boot very soon.
In the absence of the injured Johan Goosen, the Boks have very little reserve strength of international class in the pivotal number ten position.
This is another reason why Steyn’s lack of kicking form is such a worry.
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