Du Plessis offers chess analogy to explain reversal

History may be written by the victors, but the losing perspective makes for interesting consumption.

Bok stinker, one South African website labelled it.

“Slow poison”, was Victor Matfield’s slightly surreal take on their 14-point defeat while some South African journalists suggested his side had simply thrown this Test match away.

Losing to Ireland was likely to generate some colourful language and interesting turns of phrase anyway, but the prize for the most imaginative dissection of Saturday’s events went to tight-head prop Jannie du Plessis.

How exactly had the tourists conspired to lose a game, having dominated the scrums and caused Ireland all sorts of problems in the lineout, especially in the opening period? Doesn’t rugby logic dictate that such realities equate to victories?

“It is probably a little like chess in that if you have the most pieces on the board and your queen is creating havoc you think you are in the box seat. But if your king falls you lose the game,” said the amiable Sharks forward. “Whether or not we were good at set piece makes no difference really because we weren’t good enough on the night and Ireland played really, really well, so congratulations to them.”

Such magnanimity was echoed by his fellow players and coach Heyneke Meyer but the travelling press corps didn’t appear to buy that and were clearly perplexed by how a team could lose to Ireland four weeks after scalping the All Blacks.

Questions were asked and answers expected. Facets of the game were dragged up for inspection like suspects in a police line and, in reply, captain Victor Matfield singled out the breakdown as the area where the game was won and lost.

Du Plessis opted to pinpoint the period midway through the second-half as the crucial factor rather than any one area of play, but it kept coming back to the set-piece, which was clearly a source of comfort and yet also puzzlement.

After all, how does a team lose a game by almost double scores against what is supposed to be a lesser opponent having trundled over their scrum and enjoyed the better of the lineout exchanges?

Again, it was Du Plessis whose response stood out.

“A very wise man once said that a good scrum cannot win you a game, but a bad scrum can lose you a game,” said the number three who added that his side’s scrum dominance and his own performance were no consolation on the night.

“Unfortunately, that is how set-piece works. In Super Rugby sometimes (the Sharks) have dominated the set-piece and then you have a few ninjas that score four tries. That’s part of the game.”

Such equanimity is laudable, but it seemed out of kilter with a rugby culture that places so much pride on its national team and with the gentle but insistent prodding of those asking whether the players were, perhaps, not angry or upset at the defeat.

“I don’t know if we are angry. We are a bit bitter because any loss leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Whether it is anger, I don’t know, but it is definitely a shit feeling. If you play in the Springbok jersey, you don’t want to have that feeling, so we want to fix it.”


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