Handre Pollard. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)
While the debate over the Springboks’ style of play has abated following last weekend’s sterling 31-29 victory over the All Blacks, it’s inevitable that it will flare up again.
In fact, even Sanzaar’s official stats from this year’s Rugby Championship provides enough ammunition to cue discussions over South Africa’s perceived over-reliance on tactical kicking and lack of ambition on attack.
But delve into those numbers a bit deeper and a very different picture emerges.
At first glance, the Boks’ lack of punch on attack seems very much apparent.
The All Blacks, unsurprisingly, top the charts in that department.
They made the most running metres (5 115) from the most carries (662), followed by the Wallabies, who made 4 712 from 636 carries and Argentina’s 3 100 from 570.
South Africa are in last place, having made 2 856m from just 460 carries.
However, when one takes those metrics further and calculate the average meters per carry, the Boks’ 6.21m is still better than the Pumas (5.44m) and only just 1.5m less than New Zealand’s (7.73m).
That’s not exactly bad for a team that doesn’t “create a lot of play”.
Predictably, the Boks rank last in defenders beaten too, only tallying 75 with the All Blacks on top with 140 and the Australians (134) and Argentinians (84).
Off-loads clearly – as any discerning observer will know – is also not South Africa’s forte and Jacques Nienaber’s troops only made 14 in the entire tournament compared to New Zealand’s 63 and even Argentina’s 30.
In the end though, what is the most important stat in the game? To score the most points.
South Africa scored 152 points, only 8 points less than Australia (160) despite only crossing the whitewash 12 times to the Wallabies’ 19.
Tellingly, it’s 92 more than Argentina, who number-wise “played more rugby” than the Boks.
Even the All Blacks’ 218 points is rather misleading.
Only 48 of those came in the two matches against the Boks, meaning they scored 170 against Argentina and Australia combined – an average of 43 points per game.
South Africa stuck to their strengths well, boasting the best line-up in the tournament with an 89% success rate and would’ve surely boasted a better scrum success rate than 74% (third) had they not been on the receiving end of a few tough interpretations.
The fact of the matter is that the Springboks score a lot of points for team many believe plays proverbial anti-rugby and that’s really all that counts.
Instead, Nienaber and his staff have been right all along to point out execution and discipline as the main drivers of their ultimately disappointing campaign.
Their five yellow cards were the second highest after Argentina’s six, while it can’t be denied that missed tackles and Handre Pollard’s inconsistent goal-kicking ultimately denied them a shot at defending their title.
Three more accurate shots and the Boks could’ve walked away with the title, evidenced by two two-point losses to Australia and New Zealand.
That’s how small the margins are.
Incidentally, Pollard ended as 2021’s leading scorer with 66.
South African fans can lament their national team’s accuracy at times.
But there is absolutely nothing wrong with their game-plan.