In 160 minutes of rugby the Springboks have managed to retain possession for more than five phases only three times. Three times. Three bloody times. Not even an average of once a half over the course of the last two games.
And there-in lies the problem. Because unlike junior rugby you actually need to construct tries in international rugby. You cannot simply rely on luck of the bounce or individual brilliance to win games because every side has brilliant players capable of turning games. You need to have a plan and an idea of how you’re going to manoeuvre yourself into the right position to score points. If you can’t even keep hold of the ball for more than a few phases how on earth do you expect to do that?
And that is why I am absolutely convinced that Peter de Villiers’ game-plan of “play what’s in front of you” is simply a lazy approach to take. It’s an excuse to do no planning and an easy way to place the blame on the players when they don’t succeed in playing this situation and thereby deflect attention away from your own inadequacies as strategist.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really want(ed) Peter to succeed. As a country we desperately needed him to succeed. But the reality of the situation is that he has his head stuck in the sand. Deep in the sand.
It’s one thing to want to take a winning formula and tweak and build on it but it’s an entirely different story chucking everything out the window that brought us so much success in the past.
Now let’s put this in perspective. In South Africa from a very young age we play a very physical and robust game. That’s the way we grow up playing the game. We don’t throw the ball around, it just doesn’t happen. In the Currie Cup and the Super14 comps we also don’t follow that approach, with the possible exception of Western Province. Even them, to be honest, are still very conservative compared to some of the antipodean sides. And it’s not as if this magical expansive rugby that Western Province plays has brought them much joy in the last few seasons. On the contrary they’re pretty far down the pecking order in both Currie Cup and when playing in the guise of the Stormers. The trophy cabinet has been bare for many a season down at Newlands.
So now you take these players who’ve been playing a conservative game-plan their entire lives and then expect them to suddenly turn on the charm and run everything when they play for the Boks like 7 or 8 times a year? That’s madness. This, of course, between the games they go and play for their provinces where they revert to type for more than half the season.
This thinking and game-plan is flawed. Not only is it flawed in South Africa where we simply don’t have the players to play the game but it’s flawed everywhere. No side has used the “play what’s in front of you” game-plan to any success. And before you throw Australia in my face, that’s a fallacy. Yes they run the ball more than most but don’t for one second think there isn’t a very shrewd and well thought-out game-plan floating around in the background.
Our boys are under-prepared and the place you see it most is at the breakdown. Where under White the Bok pack covered the breakdown like a blanket it’s now become a case of having one or two guys hitting the ruck and then getting cleaned out when the opposition hit the ruck in numbers. We’ve lost so much turnover ball simply because the pack isn’t disciplined enough and don’t hit the rucks together like they used to. And that’s all down to coaching. It can be because of no other reason if we were getting it right this time last year with almost the exact same pool of players. If you can’t get that right, one of the basics of the game, then you’re in a world of trouble.
Doubtless the De Villiers/Muir relentless PR machine will kick into action later this week and everybody from the Pope to Robert Mugabe will be blamed for this diabolical shambles we find ourselves in.
Three losses on the trot and a single win in the TriNations to date. That is shocking for a side that wants to call themselves World Champions. Even worse is that we didn’t even have a sniff in some of those games.
But I’ve left the best for last. Take a step back for a second and consider this for a minute. Peter de Villiers took over essentially the same side that won the World Cup. He lost one or two players, in comparison to Oz and NZ who lost a boatload more, and he also inherited a carefully thought-out approach honed over four years. A World Cup winning game-plan. In the space of 6 games he’s thrown it all out the window. A match-winning formula based on the attributes South African players excel at best
Even worse, he’s thrown away a winning culture and an aura built around winning the greatest competition in the world. And this at a time when Australia and new Zealand were on their knees. We’ve just gone and given them all the confidence in the world when we should’ve been crushing them into submission with their young sides.
Let’s not forget, we’ve seen this before. Ten years ago a certain Carel du Plessis took over the Bok coaching reigns. Similar to de Villiers, du Plessis also didn’t have the credentials for the job and similarly he also believed South African players could somehow run the rest of the world to pieces.
We all know how that ended in tears. And I fear we’re seeing it again.Tweet