South Africa’s heavily flawed victory over Australia tested the old cliché of “a win is a win” to the limit. There is plenty of work to be done.
Morné Steyn delivered precision with the boot from a points-scoring perspective but there is little to celebrate here, nor is the 32-year-old’s approach at fly-half the long-term answer.
Dominance at the set-piece deserves praise – South Africa won all 12 of their lineouts, stealing three – but that masks the fact that not enough of those lineouts took place in Australia territory, failing to create a platform even with Steyn in the side to keep the ball in the right areas of the pitch.
South Africa’s attacking play was dire, with Steyn merely a placeholder until the return to fitness of Handré Pollard. For now the Springbok attack is stuck in neutral.
Desperation to simply win, at any cost, seems to have pulled the wool how limited the attacking game truly is.
You will struggle to remember a try-scoring chance, because there weren’t any. And that outweighs the positives – specifically the turnovers at the breakdown and an outstanding individual effort from Adriaan Strauss.
To suggest as Coetzee did afterwards that “we have been good with ball in hand… we moved the ball well” is remarkable when recalling South Africa’s lack of opportunities and their failure to maintain field position.
Likewise the soundbite of “our defence was outstanding”, when the Springboks missed 21 tackles and looked soft around the fringes and off first-phase ball, notably for Scott Sio’s try.
This was the first time South Africa have failed to score a try of their own this year but prior to that they had produced just 15 in seven matches, making their year average of 1.875 tries per game.
Play like they did at Loftus, and the Springboks will never be the number one side in the world. They will lose in Durban next weekend against the All Blacks and also against England in November.
An outstanding performance that ended in defeat where South Africa actually showcased the ability to create tries, let alone actually score them, would have been worth far more than Saturday’s deception.
Satisfaction, after a hollow victory, perhaps is simply a sign of how low a side we are used to seeing in the top two of the global game have sunk in recent months.