x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

New rules have ups and downs

South Africa captain John Smit was far from enamoured with rugby's new Experimental Law Variations against New Zealand.

The South Africa captain John Smit fields questions from the media.
The South Africa captain John Smit fields questions from the media.

WELLINGTON // South Africa captain John Smit received his first taste of rugby's new Experimental Law Variations on Saturday night and was far from enamoured with what he experienced. Smit (Clermont Auvergne), along with Victor Matfield (Toulon), Butch James (Bath) and replacement Percy Montgomery (Perpignan), did not play in the Super 14 this year where most of ELV rules were first utilised, including free-kicks being awarded for all offences other than offside and foul play.

The opening Tri Nations match between the Springboks and New Zealand, however, was the first time collapsing a maul was legal and numbers at the line-out were not restricted. Poor ball retention and some wayward kicking let down the world champions who struggled in the scrum and did not have their typical dominance in the line-out. The Springboks also struggled to adapt quickly enough to referee Stuart Dickinson's rulings at the breakdown with Smit, Matfield and James failing to find their best form under the ELVs.

Smit managed only 35 minutes of the 19-8 loss in Wellington before being forced off with a groin injury sustained after he was lifted and dumped on his back by Brad Thorn in the sixth minute - a tackle that cost the All Blacks lock a one-game ban. Smit is now in doubt for the second Test against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday with Stormers hooker Schalk Britz called up to join the squad. The World Cup-winning captain arrived in New Zealand with plenty of scepticism about the new laws and that feeling does not appear to have changed.

"I would have liked to have played a full game to get the full scope of it," he said. "I played 35 minutes, threw one lineout. There was a lot of aimless time in the middle of the field with the kicking that went on. "I didn't get the full chance to experience them but my 35 minutes certainly wasn't the most fun I've had. "The combative situations are pretty much the same but there doesn't seem to be much direction."

Smit promised his side would improve before next weekend's showdown in Dunedin. "There's a hell of lot left in us to give," he added. "That's probably one of the most disappointing things that we didn't bring it all. "There was a lot of inaccuracy and a lot that we're normally good at that we didn't do today. "It's probably as poor as we could play in the Tri-Nations and hopefully we can continue on and get better from there."

Matfield admitted after playing in the French second division he was still a little off the pace even with two games against Wales and one against Italy under his belt. "It will probably take another two or three games to be 100 per cent as sharp as I would like to be," he said. "I'll just have to work hard and get better every week." The 19-8 defeat was the first loss for coach Peter de Villiers since he took over from Jake White after last year's World Cup triumph.

* PA Sport