Springboks’ Second Attempt Up The Mountain
This weekend sees a Springbok side in relative disarray taking another shot at their arch-rivals, the sublime rugby nation which is New Zealand.
Reports coming from the Bok camp suggest that the mood is “positive” following yet another rather pointless eighty minutes against Australia last week indicating that the two teams are fairly equal. Whether it is equally strong or equally weak depends heavily on who you’re talking to.
Minor glimmers of hope (the phrase “positives” induces a strong gag-reflex thanks to the Bok coaching staff) that South Africa can take into this test match are few and far between. Against the Wallabies the Boks showed an increased will to attack, an improved offload-in-contact game and some good handling skills. But then again, that’s what you’d expect from test match rugby, regardless of who’s playing.
On the flip-side, there were plenty of issues for the men in green and gold against a team who is struggling to find their stride, even though Allister Coetzee described them as “fantastic” in his post-match interview which tells a tale in itself. Sub-standard fitness, inconsistency on defence, shaky set-pieces (a traditional strength of SA Rugby in the past) ludicrous tactical kicking and a complete lack of innovation on attack from the backline were rife on the day. Yes, the forwards provided good front-foot ball to the backs most of the time, but as soon as the ball passed Jantjies the plan seemingly was to feed it straight down to the wings, take the tackle and hope possession is retained. Wash, rinse and repeat. Not a single training ground backline move or simple scissors in sight. Easy meat for any defensive system and not even worth the yawn.
Behind the scenes things aren’t looking much better. Uncertainty surrounding Brendan Venter’s future with the team, Rassie Erasmus’ impending arrival which will certainly shake things up and on-field signs of confusion regarding the current game plan cannot be making things easy on the players themselves.
Come Saturday the Boks should only focus on getting a few things absolutely right. Solid scrums are a must. The inclusion of Thomas du Toit at loose head and Wilco Louw in the no 3 jumper should cut this problem out entirely. Both props are young but have demolished their opposing numbers during Super Rugby and if ever there was a time to blood them for the future, it’s now. Running into space is compulsory against an All Black team that has shown they can match anyone when it comes to physicality. Gone are the days where massive Bok forwards ruled the pitch through sheer strength and as many other sides have proved, aiming for the space between defenders even on crash ball does get you that extra yard or two over the gain-line. Elton Jantjies and Andries Coetzee need to add additional planning to their kicking decisions. Kicks for touch need to find their targets every time and if you’re going to go for the three points, make sure you get them. Lastly, defence is tantamount to success, and we cannot continue to sacrifice these cornerstones in order to develop an experimental style of play.
It goes without saying that a victory would be ideal, however if the scoreboard reflects a narrow victory for New Zealand after eighty minutes, the majority of South African supporters will feel a degree a contentment, as ridiculous as that sounds.
Anything else would be unacceptable, especially on home soil.