Peter de Villiers’s ambition of the Springboks winning Test matches by scoring tries rather than by penalty goals is admirable, and I hope he gets it right.
Mike Greenaway reports for IOL.
In the post-isolation era, a number of Springbok coaches have tried to reinvent the Boks into an all-singing, all-dancing troupe of entertainers, only to find that romanticism comes second to pragmatism.
Carel du Plessis lost a series to the Lions because of a pie-in-the-sky game plan that the players did not believe in.
After a heavy defeat by New Zealand in 1997, Sean Fitzpatrick said: “I don’t understand why the Boks don’t play to their strengths. There is a typically Springbok style that we hate contending with.”
Towards the end of his reign, Nick Mallett fell in love with the Brumbies’ irresistible pattern.
Few who were there in Sydney in 2000 will forget the Bok forwards endlessly recycling the ball a la the Brumbies, yet making little ground because they did not have the backs to perform the angled attacks of the Australians. The Test was lost by 20 points.
When the Boks came home, they reverted to type and beat the All Blacks at Ellis Park and, a week later, were unlucky to lose by a point to the Wallabies in Durban.
Harry Viljoen was another who was enamoured with the Aussies. He appointed their former backline coach, Tim Lane, and in his first Test he told the team to refrain from kicking in an attempt to change the mindset of the players.
By Viljoen’s final Test of consequence, England at Twickenham in November 2001, he had picked one of the most uninspiring backlines, including the axis of Louis Koen and Braam van Straaten, as he desperately sought a win based on practicality. The Boks lost heavily and Viljoen resigned in despair after the closing tour match in Houston.
Jake White is the one coach who has never had any grandiose ideas about how the Springboks should play and at the Rugby World Cup, they were a model of low-risk rugby. It is worth noting that White’s chief adviser in France was the former Brumbies general, Eddie Jones, who saw no cause to interfere with what worked best for the Springbok mindset.
But many who watched how the World Cup was won felt that the Boks were underutilising the unusually skillful players at their disposal and could kick on in 2008 with a more enterprising style of play.
Peter de Villiers and Dick Muir were among them.
Yet the Boks have lost three out of four Tri-Nations games and scored just three tries.
Interestingly, the Tri-Nations leaders, the All Blacks, have kicked much more than the other two teams. The Springboks have kicked the least and are last.
Last week, against the All Blacks, the Boks had more line breaks against their old rivals for many a day, yet the patient Kiwis spent much of the game watching frantic Bok attacks self-destruct before their eyes.
What cost the Boks was their poor decision-making and handling once the initial break had been made. The bottom line is that they lost 19-0.
Again, I wish De Villiers luck with his style of play and if the Boks get it right, it they will be a pleasure to watch.
But in Test match rugby, there is a tradition of glamorous game plans eventually devolving into what has worked for 100 years – you play in the opposition half, you keep risks to a minimum, and you maintain pressure on the opposition until they yield points. Then you start again.Tweet