One or two of his selections may suggest he does not have a television set at home, but Springbok fans should be hoping that national coach Peter de Villiers managed to watch enough of the Currie Cup to pick up the central message that came through.
Gavin Rich writes for the Cape Argus that the Boks gathered in Cape Town but they get down to the serious business of building up for the end of year tour, with their first training session scheduled on Wednesday afternoon.
The squad leaves for Britain on Friday, with the first Test against Wales in Cardiff scheduled for next Saturday.
Sharks coach John Plumtree raised his eyebrows when he heard Sharks star Ruan Pienaar had been selected as a flyhalf, but his misgivings were based more around the back-up (Earl Rose) than the choice of Pienaar. Does this selection mean De Villiers wants to continue with the heads up strategy that bombed during the Tri-Nations season?
The players will be hoping this is not the case, and that while De Villiers’ television set may have been on the blink when Rose failed under pressure towards the end of the season, it did work long enough for him to notice what type of rugby was employed by the successful teams in the domestic competition.
Cup finalists the Sharks and Blue Bulls both played rugby that was light years away from the loose rugby De Villiers appeared to be advocating in the Tri-Nations season, and which was responsible for the Boks losing four out of their six games.
Indeed, while it should never be forgotten that Dick Muir, now Springbok assistant coach, was the spark of the Sharks turn-around, there should also be recognition of the fact that the Durban side’s first trophy in 12 years was chiefly down to John Plumtree’s success at introducing a more pragmatic strategy known to them as “winning rugby”.
The Sharks still scored some great tries this year, as indeed the Springboks did when they took a more sensible, structured approach in the final Tri-Nations Test match in Johannesburg two months ago, but those who studied their games closely should have spotted a massive change in strategy.
The forwards are far more direct, there is far greater respect for field position, and most of the Sharks’ backline moves are executed only after the ball has been taken into second phase or beyond.
While the Bulls have improved their back-play and have added attacking dimensions by occasionally running first phase ball, it is still a rarity – and yet they were the team far and away the next best to the Sharks in the Currie Cup.
Although they failed to make the semi-finals, Western Province showed during the full-strength phase of the Currie Cup, and as the Stormers in the Super 14, that they belong with the Sharks and Bulls in the top three of South African rugby.
While there is no silverware as yet, a turn-around has been made to the fortunes of the Cape union, and it is not a coincidence it has happened at the same time as Rassie Erasmus has taken up position as head coach and swept away the off-the-cuff rugby employed by his predecessors.
There were several examples this past domestic season of the loose, heads-up approach advocated by the Bok coach coming unstuck. But the best example might have been the Cheetahs’ home game against the Blue Bulls, when their coach Naka Drotske, a man usually big on structure, confounded some of his contemporaries by eschewing everything that had won his team the Cup the year before.
The Cheetahs played a brainless, run-from-everywhere game reminiscent of some of the worst moments of the Bok Tri-Nations season – and they paid a heavy price, with the Bulls punishing them by turning over ball in the Cheetahs half and scoring from it to build a big half-time lead. In the end the Bulls won comfortably without really playing any rugby.
Of course, the lessons picked up in the SA domestic season did not happen in isolation. World rugby has been dominated this year by teams playing a pragmatic style, with the All Blacks adjusting their game after a nightmare defeat to Australia and winning the Tri-Nations on the back of a sound territorial game based around Dan Carter’s boot.
And it is not just chance that saw the best Bok performances – against Wales in Bloemfontein, New Zealand in Dunedin and Australia in Johannesburg – come on days when they paid greater attention to field position and control.
Hopefully the penny has dropped for De Villiers, as it would be folly to employ a strategy at national level that is the exact antithesis of what the bulk of the players are coached to do for the major part of the year.Tweet