Rugby is a simple sport. Yes, you have the intricacies and technicalities of certain set-pieces and areas of the game, but for the most part, it’s a pretty straightforward game. In recent encounters, particularly with the last two Tests against the Irish, the Springboks seem to have detoured away from this sentiment, trying to impose some sort of new-wave strategy or tactic (even if it doesn’t seem very apparent at times) which, to be fair, just isn’t working.
Many critics and onlookers will argue that the Springboks have no game-plan at all, but with so many players digressing away from their Super Rugby form and abilities for a conservative approach to the basics, one has to argue – are they being over-coached?
The obsession over playing a “different” brand of rugby to what has been done in the past is hurting the progression of the Springboks. The idea that Springbok rugby has become boring in recent years is unwarranted. The Springboks have played some of their most exciting rugby in recent seasons under Heyneke Meyer, at least since 2007. The entertainingly breathtaking clashes with the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 2013, 2014, and 2015 during the Rugby Championships are evidence of that. Expansive running rugby, clever set-piece moves, and spontaneous sparks of flair were all featured and were promoted and celebrated by Meyer and the team, despite being on the end of some unsatisfactory results barring the 2014 win thanks to a final Pat Lambie penalty.
Not everything during Heyneke Meyer’s occupancy was welcomed by the public, but there was a sense of confidence and belief within the players to use their natural abilities to attack with the ball in-hand rather than without it, and that’s something spectators soaked up.
In my humble opinion – this seems to be the current conundrum. It appears that the Springboks are attempting to apply pressure to the other team without having the ball, opting for a defensive-minded attitude towards the game. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this either. Allister Coetzee has employed this strategy at the Stormers during his tenure at the Cape side, and while they made some headway in recent seasons, given the impressive team they have on paper, they should be achieving a lot more.
With an abundance of exciting backline and forward players available to him, Coetzee is adamant to slow things down and resort to a tactical kicking game whereby the players are more comfortable standing in a defensive line than running with the ball. And even when the Springboks do kick, the chase and attempt to regather seems lukewarm at best. The ironic thing is, there appears to be an evident lack of tackling competency and fundamental handing skills within the current Springbok starting XV. 10 missed tackles and 17 knock-ons are not statistics you want associated with any Test side. Don’t get me wrong, the second-half comeback inspired by the bench against the Irish in the recent second Test was spectacular, but the first-half was just cringe-worthy.
The clichéd comment that “Test rugby is different from Super Rugby” inspires more groans and eye-rolls each time it’s said. There’s no denying that decision-making in terms of penalties and how you execute structured play is different in Test rugby, but for everything else, the same attitude should be taken. The All Blacks don’t play different rugby to the Crusaders; the Highlanders’ and Chiefs’ attack could be easily swapped out for the national side’s outlook, and the other New Zealand sides’ styles all blend into their Test side. Why then does the coaching staff of South Africa continue to deviate from the selected players’ strengths and comfort zones?
What were your thoughts on the Springboks’ game this past weekend? Tweet us @MenStuffZA and let us know what you think.