Breaking down the Boks…so we can build them up again

Written by Stephen Smith (StevieS)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks on 4 Jun 2018 at 16:29
Tagged with : , , , , , , , ,

Hi, Bok fans… I can almost hear the echo coming back to me as there seem to be fewer and fewer Bok fans out there after some miserable years of Bok rugby.

Now, let me start off by saying that I am no rugby expert, but I have played the game and, like every fan out there, I have an opinion on the Boks.

I want to highlight three areas:

· Basic skills and ability under the high ball
· Game plan adaptability/ Current game plan
· Succession planning

Basic Skills and ability under the high ball:

Rugby is a simple game, catch, pass, kick and tackle better than the other team and you will win. It all comes down to doing the basics really well, and this is something South African teams are not getting right.

This has been highlighted in our lack of skill under the high ball, so ruthlessly exposed in the test vs Wales on the end of year tour last year. Now, New Zealand had the same problem when they lost three in a row to the Boks all the way back in 2009. Their response was to bring in an expert to help them with their aerial skills, both defensively and on attack, and they have dominated world rugby ever since. In comparison, we have seen no marked improvement in our skill under the high ball despite it being identified as a weakness.

We also too often see players having to stop or slow down to collect a pass behind them. This costs momentum and allows the opposition to realign or the cover defence to get across.

Other basic skills which were lacking in the Wales game from Saturday were players running into contact too upright and cleaners at the rucks not staying on their feet and giving away silly penalties. These are basic errors, but they repeatedly killed any momentum the Boks had managed to achieve.

Solution: Dedicated skills coaches at franchise and Bok level.

Game plan adaptability/Current game plan:

It was frustrating to see us stick to the same formula of box kicks over and over again, just gifting the Welsh ball to run back at us. Yes, we needed to kick in the wet weather and play the game in the Welsh half, but we weren’t doing that properly. Ivan van Zyl’s building a wall of forwards telegraphed his intent as clearly as if he had just yelled to the Welsh back three and told them to prepare themselves, he was about to hoist one onto them. I would almost swear I saw one of them give him the thumbs up as he scurried back into position while Ivan leisurely built his wall. For Ivan to then pass to Robert in the greasy conditions, after he’s just been charged down and is still new on the field, was even more astonishing.

What I would have liked to have seen was the Boks take a leaf out of the Welsh playbook and dink in some chip kicks just behind the opposing backline. This was a successful tactic employed by Gareth Anscombe, but not once did Jantjies think to do the same.

As a fullback, it was always much harder to field balls skidding along the ground in the wet than to catch a ball straight out of the air. Why did we not see grubbers or kicks into empty space to put the Welsh back three under more pressure. These would surely have been more in our favour than the 50-50 box kicks.

One of my better coaches used to tell us to kick into the corners, see what the opposition did, and then react accordingly to beat them. Now, I know this is a very simplified idea, but we were confident in our strengths and we won more than we lost. Surely our on-field leaders have the vision to adapt to what they see in front of them, instead of carrying on with a game plan which last brought us consistent success in 2009? The rest of the World has moved on and we seem to persist with this plan.

Solution: We need our coaches to empower our players more on the field to play the situation and adapt. We need smart players and captains who can read a game and devise a plan to win. We need creativity in our backline play and our forwards to lay a platform by providing excellent ball from first phase i.e. scrums and lineouts.

Succession planning:

What happened to our next level of players in the Bok setup?

South Africa has a school boy rugby system which is the envy of the world. We saw this in the recent World Schools Tournament organised by Heyneke Meyer where our local teams managed to beat some of the best in the world from England, New Zealand etc. Yet we found ourselves in a position where we had to cap 13 new players in the first test of the year. If the All Blacks had played this sort of game, they would have blooded perhaps 5 players, with their second stringers boasting a reasonable number of caps. The difference between the All Blacks and the Boks comes down to succession planning. Everybody knows their position within the team, from the players to the coaches, and there is no panic when a first choice player gets injured or a coach moves on. Steve Hansen has been in the All Blacks set-up since 2004, that is 3 World Cups.

Compare this to the situation in South Africa, our assistant coaches are thrown out with every change in Head Coach, we had to get Rassie back from overseas due to a lack of suitable local candidates. Our player situation isn’t much better with no backup to Malcolm Marx on the local scene who has anything resembling decent international experience, hence the decision to call in Bismarck. I am excluding Adriaan Strauss as he retired from international rugby.

Solution: We need to identify and nurture our coaches and players. How we do that is more complicated. Central contracting? A draft system as suggested by Jake White, I wish I could tell you. There are so many factors at play in the local rugby scene that it is hard to know where to begin.

England are up next, and I have to believe that Rassie has a plan. He just has to!


  • This article reads like a how to of fixing Sharks rugby

  • Comment 1, posted at 04.06.18 16:43:07 by jdolivier Reply
  • Very good points Stevie!

    Your assessment of Jantjies is spot on, he has the freedom of Ellis Park to do chips and grubbers and cross kicks, but seems shackled in the Green and Gold. So is it fair to blame the player when it is clear that he is not allowed to be the player that got him into the Green and Gold in the first place?

  • Comment 2, posted at 04.06.18 16:44:44 by Richard Ferguson Reply
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    Richard Ferguson
  • IMO succession planning for coaches is even more important than players

  • Comment 3, posted at 04.06.18 17:25:27 by Bokhoring Reply
  • Nice one Steve! Think you’re spot on with your assessment!
    I would just go a bit further:
    Problem with skills start at primary school level where the coach with the big kids win! The coach with the smaller skilled players just not stand a chance against 130kg grade 7 “giants”! Only solution I see is to let kids play in age groups but add a size/weight limit thus taking away most of the size advantage and forcing coaches (and players) to increase skills to win games.
    Game plan:
    Better skills coaching will allow players to use their skills to “play what’s in front of them” rather than just “pass the ball to the big kid”!
    Succession plan:
    How can we expect coaches to implement a succession plan if the powers that be can’t even implement one for coaches. Your example of Steve Hansen is an excellent case as he was the assistant coach under the previous head coach before being made head coach. This ensure that at least some ideas and systems continue with the new head coach. In SA they believe coaches MUST chance every 4 years and very very seldom is an assistant coach give the job as head coach oh no we will start fresh with a new head coach and new assistants by still expect the players must adapt within 4 weeks to the new style and ideas!!!
    Only people (SA Rugby) that can fix this unfortunately seems more worries about making money than winning games!!! Also their top structures of SA Rugby is run by smaller unions that just worry obout their own existence and not about the future of Book rugby. Best example of this is idiotic 22 player squads in SRC rather than 23 like in 99.9% of world rugby competitions!!!

  • Comment 4, posted at 04.06.18 17:53:26 by JD Reply
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  • I for one am willing to give Rassie the grace we allowed other coaches. It wasn’t a great start but we are beginning from 0. He is left with very little time to rebuild after AC’s few years of neglect. We have huge gap to make up.

  • Comment 5, posted at 04.06.18 18:21:30 by coolfusion Reply

  • @coolfusion (Comment 5) : for sure not blaming Rassie for scheduling stuff up made by SA Rugby. They should never have allowed this farcical Wales test!
    Rassie did not have a real chance of preparing for Wales and England test. He had to try and make the best of a bad situation and the first part nearly worked!!!

  • Comment 6, posted at 04.06.18 19:41:14 by JD Reply
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  • @jdolivier (Comment 1) : I think you’re on to something!

    @Richard Ferguson (Comment 2) : Very interesting point. Puts a whole new spin on things.

    @JD (Comment 4) : Brilliant point about the weight divisions. My boet and I have had long discussions on that matter. There was general consensus that it would produce better players. I remember reading an article where our u13 Craven Week team played the Lions and they had a 90kg wing…at u13!!!

    @coolfusion (Comment 5) : This article is not meant to slam Rassie. I’m a big fan of his and I think he’s going to revive the Boks. I was just highlighting problems I’d noticed.

  • Comment 7, posted at 04.06.18 20:46:29 by StevieS Reply
  • So no Frans or Bismarck for the first test. Who will Rassie pick to start at hooker for the Boks?

  • Comment 8, posted at 05.06.18 08:33:13 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Richard Ferguson (Comment 2) : I’ve heard this one many times from Lions fans and I just don’t agree with it. He misses half of his tackles(go check his SR stats) and he has faded away in every tight affair the Lions have had, especially in the 2 SR finals he’s played.

    He’s also played under different coaches for the Boks and to this day he hasn’t been impressive at all. So saying he seems ‘shackled in the Green and Gold’ doesn’t make a lot of sense if you look at the games he’s played in SR at the highest level like the finals.

    Just my opinion, I think we should invest our time in someone else as we’ve given Elton a lot of opportunities with no ROI thus far.

  • Comment 9, posted at 05.06.18 09:17:19 by Quintin Reply

  • @Bokhoring (Comment 8) : This is a real poser. Bongi stayed behind, so that would imply he is in line to start, but he’s missed most of the season.

    I would say, based on experience of the players and the need for old heads, we may see Chili start and Bongi on the bench. I personally would love to see Akker coming off the bench.

  • Comment 10, posted at 05.06.18 09:18:33 by StevieS Reply
  • @StevieS (Comment 10) : I also think we’ll see Chili start and I’m also hoping for Akker on the bench, the guy deserves a shot on current form.

    Centers I’d guess will be de Allende and Am with Frans also out? Was interesting to see Frans play 13 in last weekends final.

  • Comment 11, posted at 05.06.18 09:28:01 by Quintin Reply

  • @Quintin (Comment 9) :

    Valid points you make, and you are right, he doesn’t seem to have what it takes to step up in pressure situations.

  • Comment 12, posted at 05.06.18 09:32:54 by Richard Ferguson Reply
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    Richard Ferguson
  • @Richard Ferguson (Comment 2) : Jantjies issues go deeper than Green& Gold, even at Super Level he battles if he is closed down and placed under pressure. Unfortunately that is a given at test level, where the sides are much more closely matched. Scrumhalves and coaches have all been blamed for his failings, the problem lies with his mentally fragile state, under undue pressure.

  • Comment 13, posted at 05.06.18 10:31:07 by KingCheetah Reply

  • @StevieS (Comment 10) : Think Chilli should start because he also stayed behind for the sharks last game in Arg so hasn’t has so much travel.

    Overall the succession planning on players has been stuffed since HM who insisted on the old old guard from Jakes days and didn’t give youngsters a chance. Coetzee gave into fan pressure and picked a lot of popular (lions mainly)players who were never Bok quality-Skosan,Coetzee,Leyds to name a few so Rassie now has to start mostly from scratch

  • Comment 14, posted at 05.06.18 10:41:29 by Byron Wright Reply

  • @Byron Wright (Comment 14) : I’d forgotten they kept Chili back from the Jaguares game. Good point.

    Coetzee picked those players, but forced them to play a different style.

    That seems to be a problem with our coaches in S.A. We don’t pick a game plan to suit our best players. Or alternatively, we don’t pick the players to suit our game plan.

  • Comment 15, posted at 05.06.18 11:13:32 by StevieS Reply
  • @StevieS (Comment 15) : Very vaild point and the back three of Coetzee is the perfect illustration- Flair and pace to chase up and unders instead of size and power

  • Comment 16, posted at 05.06.18 12:13:43 by Byron Wright Reply

  • @Byron Wright (Comment 16) : Andries Coetzee and flair don’t belong in the same sentence.

  • Comment 17, posted at 05.06.18 12:27:16 by Bokhoring Reply

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