Driving to SuperSport on Saturday to report on the rugby test match from Durban I committed to memory a mispronunciation by a radio sports reporter because I wondered whether it would become pertinent to the performance of the Springboks.
Dan Retief writes in his SuperRugby Column that the sportscaster informed his listeners that “the Springboks will continue with their expensive style,” in the soon-to-be-played international between South Africa and Australia at the Absa Stadium.
It struck a chord with me because of my view that the Springboks, in their efforts to adopt a more expansive method, have lost their way and ended up playing a reckless, feckless game doomed to failure.
Up against more canny opponents the Springboks started promisingly by holding the ball through eight phases but then fell away to resemble a second-tier outfit rather than the world champions they’re meant to be.
Coach Peter de Villiers talks of a style of play the whole world will come to fear but the reality is that the new approach is not built on a solid platform.
The old adage about houses and foundations is most apt because no form of constructive rugby can be played unless good basics are in place and it appears Messrs De Villiers, Muir and Gold have gone from Jake White’s rigid structure to a laissez faire approach – almost like an Olympic gymnast arriving on the mat without a routine and making it up on the fly.
It won’t work at the Olympics and the Springboks are finding that it’s not working against first-class opposition.
And sadly it could have been avoided. Jake White would have been the first to concede that the Springboks needed to build and improve on the style of play that won them the World Cup but, as previously mentioned in these portals (on numerous occasions), the feud between the former coach and SA Rugby resulted in the lack of any continuity.
It would have been interesting to know what White intended to do make his champions better, but instead of a succession plan (perhaps even a detailed report to be passed to the new coach) we ended up with a completely new set of coaches – all inexperienced (as coaches) at international level.
So instead of building on what we had – preserving the strengths, identifying the weaknesses, pinpointing the areas of development – we embarked on a new plan and I get the impression that, like we distant observers, the players themselves don’t have a clear idea what that plan is.
The same thing happened in 1995 when Kitch Christie departed. Christie had an extensive action plan (such as turning Garry Pagel into a tighthead and developing clear understudies for each position in the Springbok side) but it was not implemented once a new coach (Andre Markgraaff) took over and started to impose his will.
The Springboks cannot afford to let their basics slip and they desperately need to find a method of keeping control of the ball – especially in the way they protect it when going into contact.
Poor ball retention and continuity is an old bugbear, even under White, and a lot of work needs to be done on the new imperatives introduced by the ELVs which allow unfettered hands-in and make it essential for teams to ensure two “side-riders” for the ball-carrier at the point of contact to seal off the ball and block the pick-pockets.
My point is best illustrated by the sound bytes coming down the airwaves during the match.
For instance, I reacted a little cynically to Robbie Deans talking up the Boks’ “innovation and creativity” – almost as if he was encouraging them not to move away from it! – while I jotted down some words of wisdom from an Aussie!
Bob Dwyer once remarked that there is a short-circuit between David Campese’s brain and his mouth but I thought “Campo” dispensed some insightful gems during the preamble to the test which are worth repeating.
“Some of the players don’t know what he means,” said Campese of the Boks’ response to their coach’s new way.
“When the pressure was on no-one knew who to turn to,” on the Boks losing their way against the All Blacks.
“South African rugby is dominated by lineouts and the maul. When the pressure is on you’ve got to play to your strengths,” stating the obvious on how the Springboks should be playing.
“The ball, you’ve got to have the ball. South Africa have a tendency to win the ball but then just kick it away or lose it in contact,” reflecting what the fans are saying.
“If they (the Springboks) can control the ball they’ll do a lot better than they have in the last couple of (Tri-Nations) games,” just before kick-off. They didn’t – on both counts.
It seems so simple doesn’t it? The key error of the new coaching regime was to create the impression that there is something wrong with the way South Africa plays rugby and talking up a new approach rather than simply concentrating on winning and keeping quiet about whatever tweaks might have taken place.
The expansive approach has turned into an expensive error – how expensive? Time will tell.Tweet