Adopt the Bulls style!
It was amusing to read about the furore in Australia following the comments by Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph that the Aussies are playing ‘school boy rugby’ in their Conference in relation to the ferocity of the derbies in the New Zealand Conference.
Obviously the Aussie coaches hit back with angry responses and for once, the way we play the game in South Africa and more particular, in Pretoria, is not the subject of scrutiny, and may I say, ridicule.
While Joseph probably has his reasons for saying what he did, it made me wonder if we ever will have an unified way of play, something we will call the ‘South African way’.
Do we all need to play the same way? From a national point of view, it would certainly make things a lot easier on the national coach if 80 or 90% of his troops were already on the same wavelength.
One of the biggest problems facing the Springbok is the lack of time to prepare for Test matches. This has been a huge problem since tours fell by the wayside.
With the Sharks, Bulls, Stormers and the former Cats all involved in Super Rugby semis and finals in the last decade, the national coaches have only managed to assemble their squads a week to 10 days before a the first Test of the season.
This leaves very little time to prepare tactically and with the rugby calendar becoming even more congested next year with inbound tours and the Four Nations, the situation will not change much.
A style of play that does not need to be altered too much would be ideal for any Bok coach, as he could then only fine tune instead of overhaul.
As things stand though, all our franchises play different styles of rugby.
Personally, should South Africa adopt a specific style, I feel the Bulls style of play is best suited to Test match rugby and should be adopted by the national coach.
It is all about playing in the opponent's half of the field, a strong set piece and a very reliable goal kicker. Executed well, it is a very good recipe indeed.
I know the Stormers supporters will disagree and indeed they may have a point. It is ironic that they have moved on from their normal game of running rugby and play a much more tactical game now, building their successes in recent times on a massive defensive effort.
In the past, there was a philosophy of ‘we just need to score more tries than the opponents and we will win’.
The Sharks have an attack-orientated game as well and love nothing more than a free flowing game. Their loose forwards are more important to them than any other team.
The Cheetahs, of course, are always happy to run the ball from anywhere, but have progressed in recent years, mainly because their pack is now solid enough for them to score tries from first phase.
The Lions are currently trying to find a new style of play and a particular type of player to fit into that pattern.
Whether the "John Mitchell way" will be a good fit for the traditional 'South African way' remains to be seen.
One could argue that the influence of someone like Mitchell (and John Plumtree to a certain extent) will help the local game in exploring more options and ways to play the game.
Plumtree has lived and played rugby in South Africa for some time and hence has a much better understanding of what makes the South African player tick than Mitchell, and will therefore be much more successful.
So, do we need a national style, and would it be possible?
We've always had big forwards and due to altitude, great kickers of the ball. Any national style should include and embrace that.
It need not necessarily be about the physical attributes of our players, though, but rather the psychological approach.
The reality is that playing winning rugby is paramount. That is the most important thing for the national psyche. It is not about expressing your culture and philosophies on life on the rugby field (like say, the French), but about winning when it matters.
And for that, one has to look at what has brought success in recent times.
The style of play in the 2007 Rugby World Cup and the style of play that won Super Rugby titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010 is what seems to be working best for South Africa.
Do we allow this to become the norm and all strive to play that way, or do we ignore those results and play according to gut feel?
Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.
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