When a team loses as badly as the Springboks have done in recent weeks there are millions of theories around to try and answer why. I have my own, but it is very different from what has been suggested so far…
So how can a team that dominated world rugby in 2009 fall behind so quickly and so spectacularly? What has changed? There has not been that many injuries to players to suggest this can be the sole cause has there? Our Super 14 campaign has also proven that two teams, with very different strategies dominated the Aussies and Kiwi’s and no, referees are also not to blame!
But something is different or missing, and after watching Saturday’s loss against the Aussies something dawned on me, it is not really who we lost, and in what positions we lost players, it is more the ‘type’ of player that we lost.
When I looked back at 2009 when things were quite rosy for the Springboks and compared it to the rubbish I saw in the last 3 weeks I was reminded of what a coach I studied under once told me; ‘Without momentum created or maintained for extensive parts of the game, you can forget about winning’.
The issue about momentum is quite a broad topic and although it can be influenced from the outside like through officials of the game, it is largely controlled by the team itself.
Firstly it is done through the selection of players from match to match, either trying to maintain a certain type of momentum you might enjoy or to change the momentum your team currently experience.
Most importantly however the shifts in momentum in a match is where it really counts.
For my money the Springboks found out exactly what worked for them as a team in 2009, and where I believe we failed is trying to identify players to fill a position in the case of injury, rather than identifying the correct type of player to execute what we want, and do well as a team.
In short, we got the issue of developing or identifying depth all wrong.
Where we are currently looking for a guy to fill numbers 2, 7 or 9 (or any number on a jersey) where we should have identified a Bismarck type player, or another Juan Smith or Fourie du Preez.
And forget about the commonly referred to ‘kick-chase’ game-plan the media loves to go on about – in 2009 the Boks managed to play a devastatingly powerful game with scoring some spectacular tries of first phases as –well as phased play.
The point is players like Bismarck, Bakkies, Juan, Brussow, Fourie du Preez and even Frans Steyn were able to create and maintain momentum for the team, or either change momentum in an instant like Frans’ exploits with his boot, from which the glory poster boys like Morne Steyn, Jean, Bryan and Jaque Fourie could feed off to win games.
So where we suddenly looked for players to fill a position only, we should have identified players who could ensure we would enjoy the same momentum we did in most games in 2009.
I guess what I am trying to say is that in rugby, filling a position or building depth is not just a numbers game, like finding a 15 for a 15, but more finding a ‘momentum player’ when you lose one.
These also do not have to be position specific, but it is essential that you identify these type of players in areas of a team crucial to build and maintain momentum.
This will be areas like the scrum (tight 5 and front row), line-out (hooker and second row), breakdown (loose-forwards to create or maintain momentum on attack and defence) and your halfbacks (controlling the ball you get effectively).
If you have the luxury to select game-breakers who can change a match in an instant like Frans Steyn, then even better.
In my personal view, players that performed that role for the Boks in 2009 were Bismarck (forward momentum with ball in hand and even turn-over skills in the breakdown), Bakkies & Juan (maintaining momentum on attack in cleaning rucks and ensuring good quality ball but also in defense changing momentum in your favour), Fourie du Preez (ensuring momentum is maintained through controlling quality possession).
Players that could turn momentum in a match in an instant in 2009 were players in the mould of Heinrich Brussow and Frans Steyn.
Currently, I am having real trouble identifying these type of players in the current setup.
So as far as I am concerned the Springboks perhaps, just perhaps failed to identify exactly what type of depth they need to identify and build on, which is not a position specific issue, but rather a specific breed of player to ensure we keep on doing what we did in 2009, and hopefully will be able to do again, in 2011.Tweet