Boks searching for balance
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
The Springboks were certainly off colour on the weekend and were quite fortunate to come away with a draw. Post-game Heyneke Meyer said that he didn’t want to make any excuses and in his own words, the performance was ‘unacceptable.’ There is no question it wasn’t a good performance. The Boks went into the game with a particular strategy, but were stymied and therefore unable to execute.
The Boks’ strategy is based on their ability to physically dominate their opponents and to have their big ball carriers generate momentum - evidenced by the fact Jacques Potgieter was selected ahead of Keegan Daniel.
What happened on the weekend was that the Boks were unable to outmuscle the Pumas; their strong defence ensured the Boks were unable to generate momentum and consequently the Boks struggled to play. When their game plan doesn’t come off, they seem to struggle and don’t appear to have many alternatives. At the moment, the Boks are not at all creative on attack.
One just has to look at the All Blacks to offer a clue. South Africa has the players capable of playing that style. It boils down to having a high skill level, players who are technically proficient and are good decision makers. I’ve been told that the All Blacks had a massive focus on their ball placement and the collisions, because they felt that let them down in the previous Test against Australia. They got that right and subsequently were able to generate very quick ball from breakdown situations.
The Boks’ breakdown wasn’t good and consequently they had a weak platform to play off. There are a number of factors which contribute. It’s the carriage, placement and clean-out. It starts with the carriage. For example, if a player makes a dominant tackle it’s a lot easier for him to defend, because he has time to set the line and the opposition are on the backfoot. Similarly, if a team boasts a dominant carriage with good go forward; it’s far easier to clean than it is for the opposition. Heinrich Brussow is outstanding on the ground, but a lot of that is to do with opposition ball.
As a group we struggled. Yes, Morne Steyn didn’t have his best kicking game, but to single out an individual is unfair. I don’t think the blame can be laid at his door, for what Heyneke himself described as a very poor collective performance.
It’s very early on to judge Heyneke - he has only had five Tests and has to be given a decent opportunity to settle. I think that at the end of the Rugby Championship one can then reflect, and it will be easier for pundits to pass judgment. This tournament will serve as a better measure than the England series as he now has a good stretch of time with the players.
The point I would like to stress is that is a question of always attaining balance. While there are those who feel the Boks under Meyer are over-structured, which is a valid argument, I would rather take a positive line and say the Boks need to ensure that they maintain a good balance between attack and defence, and have alternate strategies in place. At the moment we are clearly seeing an imbalance.
Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies are both outstanding players and are certainly considerations going forward. Perhaps at a point there will also be an opportunity for a player like Juan de Jongh, who presents a different set of difficulties to defences, than a more physical, defence-orientated centre.
With the Wallabies next in line, the Boks have to step up a gear. The Wallabies don’t have the finest pack in world rugby, and the Boks should be able to get on top of them upfront. That said, I thought they defended particularly well against the All Blacks. They held their hosts to a single try - in spite of the fact the All Blacks dominated the fixture.
The increased scrutiny is harsh on Robbie Deans as he has proved himself as an excellent coach. It’s tough for Deans at the moment as he is playing against top sides and from an all-round perspective I’m not sure Australia really has the ammunition, particularly in terms of player depth.
The Boks have plenty going for them in the next Test, which will be played in Perth. They will be up for the game mentally and will be aware an away win would be crucial. That said, the Wallabies will be desperate for a win after back-to-back losses.
At the moment, because the All Blacks are a very well-balanced side and are extremely dangerous on attack, they are a cut above everybody else. While I wouldn’t say it’s the very best All Blacks side I have ever seen - the 1996 side led by Sean Fitzpatrick was brilliant - they are certainly a very good unit.
While it’s always difficult to compare different eras, in terms of performances over the first two rounds, there is certainly daylight between them and the other sides.Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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