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Bok power game must stay

2010-07-28 16:01

Rob Houwing

Yawn. We’ve visited this territory before: the notion that Springbok rugby is all about “brawn over brain” and an over-reliance on a kicking game.

That’s been the case since the heyday of Gerald Bosch and Naas Botha operating behind gnarly packs and probably a fair bit before that, too.

Inevitably, it has reared its head once more, with various Antipodean critics tossing daggers our way in the wake of the Boks’ overseas-leg fiasco in the Vodacom Tri-Nations.

That provocative, Aussie-based scribe Spiro Zavos led the assault this week, gleefully starting his tirade with the suggestion that the Springboks are “dangerous clowns” for their attacks on referees (er, no, Spiro, just a recent string of infuriatingly inconsistent Irish ones, actually) and refusal to accept “the laws of the game” or punishments to their “thuggish” offenders.

All that is Australian has a saintly, valorous halo this week, of course.

He kicked the currently tottering beast further by suggesting the Wallabies’ “high-octane, ball-in-play style” was just too swift and smart for the “might is right” philosophy of the Boks.

He has a fair dinkum right to express his views. And I have to agree with Zavos to a degree on certain fronts: Bakkies Botha, with his return to brainless old ways via the unsubtle Jimmy Cowan head-butt, basically triggered a renewed school of thought beyond our borders that the Boks are more inclined toward dirty play than most.

As for the expensive Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie “tip-tackles” on the winless tour … well, they ARE firmly outlawed and you’ve just got to learn not to do ‘em, haven’t you?

But the suggestion that the Boks have suddenly fallen behind the times in formula terms? Baloney!

The rest of the rugby world, believe me, would love to see South Africa respond to their trio of Tri-Nations defeats by going violently against their long-standing, feared tradition and attempting to toss the ball around with some abandon.

They famously tried it once in Buenos Aires, after all, with a clear-cut Harry Viljoen instruction “not to kick” … and yes, they did score some pretty tries initially but also found themselves out on their feet and clinging on for dear life for the 37-33 result in 2000 against ordinary Argentina.

I’m all for flair, X-factor and spectacular tries. But I also unashamedly subscribe to the “beauty in brawn” school, because significant levels of physicality, applied intelligently, are part and parcel of rugby’s appeal.

There has always been something appealingly “blunt instrument” in South African rugby, given the big-boned individuals we produce, especially in the engine room.

Besides, what is wrong with an intriguing contrast or two in styles when rugby’s biggest teams meet?

Nor should it be forgotten that when juggernaut, properly motivated Bok packs establish a front-foot bridgehead, we are as capable as any other country of scoring eye-candy tries, particularly on the firm and fast pitches of our interior heartland.

No, the fall from grace of late is down mostly, I believe, to factors that transcend playing philosophy, even if tweaks with the times are both necessary and desirable.

This is well-worn terrain from me so I won’t bang on about it, but I repeat my assertion that several senior Bok cogs are off the pace primarily because of crazily excessive game-time, and ought to be – have to be! -- sharper after the current little recess period.

And accompanying these bankers’ mid-season recession, too, has been a pronounced fall-off in the areas of execution of Bok fundamentals, and precision … yes, the very things that tend to tilt Test matches.

Interestingly, there was a 15-minute period during the Brisbane defeat (and all praise to resurgent, deserving Australia on the day) when South Africa showed signs of the vitality and menace that had, let’s face it, seemed happily entrenched in our game until some three short weeks back.

Certainly I feel also that the eventual return of some key missing links, either from injury or because they have debatably fallen from Peter de Villiers’ favour, will go a long way to dissolving any feeling that the Boks have gone bankrupt of ideas.

The names of Fourie du Preez and Frans Steyn (ideally at fullback) come swiftly to mind: they were very essential elements of the Bok tactical kicking game and will be so again, provided that the latter can bury the hatchet with his head coach over issues we still aren’t wholly clear on.

And who were perhaps the two most mobile and nuisance-value forwards when South Africa won all three of their home Tri-Nations matches with a bit to spare last year? Heinrich Brussow and Bismarck du Plessis, both entirely absent for this year’s tournament but gradually “rehabbing” and the hooker much closer to fitness.

Of course I am fully aware of the changes with which the “tackled ball” area is being policed, but I also don’t believe they are revolutionary enough for the Boks to have been compromised to any lasting degree – indeed, the restoration of Brussow’s searing pace to the breakdown cannot come quickly enough!

South Africa have also let themselves down badly on defence, turning a once-renowned strength into a quite unexpected weakness recently.

Yup, the Boks have been their own worst enemies in so many respects; they have it within themselves to restore normal service.

Change their game dramatically? No, that’s not required, by my book. Not yet anyway.

It was only last year that the All Blacks were swinging the ball fairly desperately from all positions on the park in South Africa, and simultaneously running up cul-de-sacs as inspiring Bok “offensive defence” rocked them back on their heels and turnovers sparked scoring sprees the other way.

A wee reminder: the Springboks have won two World Cups in four attempts, a better strike rate than anyone else on the planet.

And we certainly didn’t win them by biffing beach-balls about. We kicked some sand in people’s faces, as it were, to the importantly discipline-dictated extent this is permissible – yes, still is -- in rugby’s laws.

I also retain some deep curiosity as to how these meteorically-risen, visionary (etc, etc) Wallabies will fare with their much-touted dynamism in successive Highveld meetings with the wounded Boks -- provided they have their camp-wide lustre and focus back - in a few weeks’ time.

Coming to Pretoria and Bloem, Spiro?

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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Comments
  • Gary Kroukamp - 2010-07-28 16:16

    A timely dose of reality from a voice of reason! Thank You Mr Houwing

  • Syd - 2010-07-28 16:26

    I have to agree with this article and go on to say, Kirckner is not International material. He looks lost in the Bok jersey. I know a lot of people think Burger has improved but I think his body has had enough and the sooner he opens way the better. Morne is a kicking machine but doing things with ball in hand when his pack does not have go forward ball, is not one of his strong points. I would like to see a Peter Grant take up the 10 position. Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J De Villiers, Habana (Aplon), Grant, Pienaar, Spies, Smith, Louw, Matfield, Rossouw, Van Der Linde Du Plessis,Mtawarira

  • Tones - 2010-07-28 16:26

    Totally agree with this. No need for panic just yet and Spiro, you are going to see a very different team in a few weeks o palsky!

  • The Godfather - 2010-07-28 16:41

    A good article. One thing I find hard to fathom, is how friend and foe are now demanding the heads of the Springbok coach and captain respectively. We won the Tri Nations very descisively last year with the same management. I'll be the first to concede that Smit's form is way off and something to look at. And that our play is unimaginitive to say the least. But come on South Africa, have some faith. We have a great squad with great depth and can be glad that our problems are not a lack of talent or experience. Something maul over, before we enter another Brain van Rooyen era...

  • THE VOICE - 2010-07-28 16:42

    A BELLS for you ... BOB! Sure ... do not let them AUSSIES and KIWI'S fool us ... they know WHO IS TO BE BEATEN if they have aspirations to win RWC 2011! Two months ago two South African Regional sides contested the finals of the TOUGHEST RUGBY COMPETITION in the world ... and now we are suddenly too old, too this, too that .... BULLSH@T! The WAR OF WORDS has begun ... hopefully some "less intelligent" rugby pundits in BOK Country will not fall for these guys and their "rugby knowledge!"

  • Jacques - 2010-07-28 16:45

    Great article Rob, Can you believe that guy Zavos? What a joker! BOKS, PLEASE WIN YOUR NEXT 3 GAMES JUST TO SHUT UP THAT MOFO!!

  • Sigh! - 2010-07-28 16:52

    Thank goodness for someone with a realistic and positive view on things. I was beginning to fear I am the only the one!! I for one feel relieved.

  • infoguru - 2010-07-28 16:59

    I couldn't agree more. Why play their game, if we can win by playing ours!!!

  • Bra Zondo - 2010-07-28 17:02

    To add to that, because of ill-discpline, we played 40mins of our tour down under with 14 men... So I am not sure when the Aussies suddenly became superior to the Boks. I haven't read a better article about our recent faliures all week. Couldn't agree with you more Rob. I cannot wait for the home leg of the tour!

  • Andre Burger - 2010-07-28 17:33

    Like your thinking Rob, good piece!

  • Nash Carter - 2010-07-28 18:16

    the boks aren't done as their thin line in international rugby between good, bad and average. They should come back better in Bloem and Pretoria. However, we have seen cracks that weren't expected considering how "brilliant" the boks are meant to be. They are supposed to be some legendary team that has conquered all. The great england team didn't have a blip like this neither did the wallabies.

  • Mazwer - 2010-07-28 18:45

    Unfortunately i dont agree with you Rob on this one. We need not panick, but that game based on kicking possesion away and relying on stong defence will not make us win another world cup. This is where i think the Bulls have been very smart with Frans Ludeke as their coach. People have expected them to play a game based on kicking. But they have been suprisingly keeping an excellent ballance between kicking tactically & keeping ball in hand. It is about balance for me. Not a game based on one thing. If you do one thing more than the other you'll not succeed in internation rugby. This is why NZ has come good. They have found the balance on top of having the same management for a while (plus a few talented youngsters). SA is not short of talent, we just need to move on with the times & find the correct balance. We have the athletes.

  • BradMan4RSA - 2010-07-28 19:03

    Good piece, because it has reason - also like Frans Steyn on the park or bench, he is more handy available than not. I also fancy the new scrumhalf, he is fast & fresh. Possibly best guy after Du preez. Same for Juan De Jong. GO BOKS!! We proud of you!!!

  • TerryG - 2010-07-28 19:06

    Hi Rob, You are right on the money. Both the Bulls and the Stormers were made to look tired in two of their matches but they bounced back the following week without changing their game plan or personnel. My only concern is the leadership vacuum at coaching level. when a team has a setback clear decisive leadership is required.

  • Gary Hirson - 2010-07-28 19:06

    Great piece. Better the cracks now then this time next year.

  • marco - 2010-07-28 19:13

    Nice and well said Houwing. Zavos is an assh**e there is no doubt about that and what makes him even worst is that now I know "hy spoel sy bek uit" in Australia,I thought he was living locally in SA at the time I read his article.Everybody in the rugby union world know's South Africa is to rugby union the same as Man United is to the Premier League in England always the standard or benchmark and hardly ever second best to anyone.We lost and lost badly as does United at times but like Man United you can never right us off we'll always find a way back in it and winning it's in our DNA so it has to be expected.PDV the coach/manager is no Alex Ferguson and will never be but the Bok team and the brand-- The Springboks--can't and will not surrender it's strength in depth to no one,ever.We will rise again.Man United lost their Title twice in a row in '05 and '06 but came back winning it three times in a row in '07,'08,'09 so we can win back our title aswell if not this time round then definitely next year.That is what we do.Come on you Boks!!!

  • Scottie - 2010-07-28 19:15

    At last some one has sense. Well done.

  • BC - 2010-07-28 19:33

    Yes Rob but they have got to play the power game well which was not done on tour. The kicking was poor, the chasing was worse and the defence had big holes in it. The traditional Bok game is beautifull and a winner when done properly, not like we saw in the last three games, which begs the question - where's the coaching going? At the moment the team seems stuck in the middle somewhere in between styles of play and it's costing us dearly.

  • mike - 2010-07-28 19:41

    I think we should continue to kick, however we need chasers that actually compete for the ball i.e. not Habanna and Aplon... Also we should mix it up a bit and actually try get the ball into touch deep inside the oposition half. Pressure from a set piece is easier to create. Also when we do keep the ball in hand lets keep it with our forward through 6 or 7 phases with them in 2 or 3 man groups. Then spread it wide!

  • Yawn - 2010-07-28 20:13

    Antipodeans/down under means Southern Hemisphere, DOH DOH DOH, try and out smart us, too bad we've been schooled FOOOL, hey dummy's- look out for Dagg let alone Rangers on the mist, we ARE ALWAYS FOR EVER THE GREATEST THAT YOU ASPIRE TO. Sonny Bill v Bakkies hahahahaha, pussies, the AB'S are not only going to smash you, we're going to annihilate, humiliate and crush you BOET, hey, ask anyone who commands respect my little BOETS, NEW ZEALAND,

  • Man in BLACK - 2010-07-28 20:29

    What????? hahahahahaha, apart from the biggest thrashing in history from NZ during tests you have the cheek to pretend you wern't THRASHED, oh my, how does a THRASHING in SOWETO sound my fair weathered BOET, keep up the tempo, nothing better than smashing the 'world-chumps' keep talking hahahaha...

  • Simon - 2010-07-28 21:02

    I find THE MAN IN BLACK some what irritating, quite like the Irish refs of late, mostly whistle and little, if any intelegence. I have to agree with you Rob, brain and a modicum more bran than the above mentioned and we will be right back on track!!

  • @ Marco - 2010-07-28 21:05

    @ Marco 'Everybody in the rugby union world know's South Africa is to rugby union the same as Man United is to the Premier League in England always the standard or benchmark and hardly ever second best to anyone.' hahah this made me laugh so hard. you are a complete twat. i think u meant to write New Zealand in the place of the South Africa. the springcoks have been ranked number 1 in the world for a bout 3 months in the last 5 years, and consistentl lose. hahaha man u need to go look at some statistics u muppet!

  • Todge - 2010-07-28 22:50

    Just as people are saying the Trinations was won last year with the same coaching personnel, the same is true for those who lost - the Kiwis and Ozzies. What we're seeing in those teams, however, are new selections or team members who have matured. It is true there are a lot of key Bok players out and much of the talk about fatigue and player mismanagement is probably true. There are many factors. But what this 3N has shown us is that there is a lack of boldness in selection and key players who were part of the S14 winning teams are not being utilized; De Jongh, Hougaard, Vandenheever, Stegmann, Vermeulen, amongst others. One has to wonder why? These selection problems emerged on the Bok EOYT last year. Second String or not, it is not good for the management to be sending such teams abroad - it affects the team psyche to be sure. It is also questionable to play players out of position on such a regular basis. This is a hallmark of Muir's coaching. He did it at the Sharks and at the Lions. The problem is clearly with coaching and selections. It does not take a genius to see that kicking away possession is foolish...and then to complain that "we hardly had the ball". Why is it so difficult to replace the coach(es)? Surely their contracts/bonuses have performance clauses in them?

  • Mike B - 2010-07-28 23:41

    You live in a dream world Rob. History speaks for itself. The All Blacks have been and will always be the team that every other nation wants to beat. Yes, S A have won the World Cup twice. Just another test!!!!! Who is consistantly the top ranked team in the world??? It is very short sighted to say that the Springboks must stick to their current game plan. If the All Blacks stuck to their game plan that was not working, they would not be the great team that they are. I must say I am very glad to know that PdV will be the coach next year as he will not be dropped. That means we only have the Aussies to worry about. Simon and Marco, you guys need to pull in your necks as you are almost as funny and pathetic as old Snoerre.

  • glennm - 2010-07-29 00:58

    If our clo...oops.....coach can coach then all that really is needed is the BASICS. SPEED and POWER. Combine the three and you will have actractive winning rugby. Leave all this other crap out the game plan and run the ball. Get it to the wings. Is that not what the NZ and AUS did to us. Speed and Power. No even a clown can coach that

  • Bok man - 2010-07-29 04:28

    @ Man in Black. At least we didn't make up some bullshit story about a phantom Suzie that supposedly gave us food poisoning! We have also not posed death treats to the ref (i.e like you guys did towards Wayne Barnes). We just called them incompetent and biased - which they are! Good thing that your beloved Ab's are peaking now - they always do between world cups.

  • Jon - 2010-07-29 06:09

    Ten tries to three. A hundred points to thirty. That's clear evidence of dinosaur DNA in the Boks game. Besides, they can't out-muscle the Antipodeans -- they're to old, soft and weak.

  • Spike - 2010-07-29 06:55

    Yes all you say 100% correct. Do worry most about the coach though ... players out of position, funny substitutions, team selections, not able to change game plan ... We should be unbeatable, but we're not!

  • AJ - 2010-07-29 08:24

    To put it simply: Australia and New Zealand can attack for 12 phases without making an error. They can also defend for 10 phases without conceding a penalty. They also do not kick the ball away to the opposition. (We fail dismally on the above 3). Stay away from the quagmire of team selection, depth should cover that. It's our skills that are letting us down.

  • Clibo - 2010-07-29 08:56

    Well said Mr Houwing

  • Bokker - 2010-07-29 09:14

    Rob - absolutely correct. Hope this is getting air time in the right circles. As for the Man In Black - we were thrashed. It was horrible. NZ and Aus played great rugby while we played dismally. But if you think this is the end of the Green Machine - Think again! NZ have made the mistake of believing they're the best a couple of times now without winning the World Cup...

  • Monty from down under - 2010-07-29 10:22

    RSA won 2 World Cups without scoroing tries, and have taken the running rugby backwards. Rob which team won 2 rugby world cups by scoring tries in both matches. No the BOKS are the only team on the planet that has won the WC twice without scoring tries,

  • Monty from down under - 2010-07-29 10:23

    RSA won 2 World Cups without scoroing tries, and have taken the running rugby backwards. Rob which team won 2 rugby world cups by scoring tries in both matches. No the BOKS are the only team on the planet that has won the WC twice without scoring tries,

  • Emile - 2010-07-29 10:31

    The traditional Bok game is 100% and very hard to match, if we play to our potential. We have dominant forwards and lightning backs. We love to tackle and that makes a huge difference. Tackle counts and all those rubbish stats therefore means nothing. The only problem we have is poor team selection and very poor coaching. The players are there and most of them performed exceptionally in the Super 14. A world class player doesn't just become a struggling player within 5 weeks. It only meanse that our players have actually deteriorated since leaving their provincial unions. Main reasons for that must be poor coaching (which we all see), poor selections (which we all see), poor application of substitutes (which we all see), very poor and unfair refereeing (which we all see) and maybe a bit of conflict within the camp. I can only imagine the senior players cannot be a happy bunch under those coaches. Well, according to Marinos and Hoskins everything is all "happy days" in theBoks camp. Do you believe it for a second?

  • haha - 2010-07-29 10:44

    So Mr.Houwing, to sum you up, "we need to fire Pieter De Villiers!" I agree completely with you.

  • shaun - 2010-07-29 12:05

    Yawn and Man in Black..... go get a room chaps.. and down under doesn't actually mean Southern hemisphere you knob! What school did you freaks go to? Well done you're 2-0 this year on the boks.... 2=the number of world cups we've won and who gives a toss what you kiwi clowns think... You know it's all you want and you'd trade it for anything... Downplaying the WC just makes you even more pathetic... Ask your captain what the most important thing is for his team? Focus on your team guys, we'll focus on ours and we'll beat you in your back yard again next year to kick you out the cup....Better have some poison excuse waiting

  • Bee-Bull - 2010-07-29 12:51

    Vat so Spiro!

  • PVR - 2010-07-29 13:31

    @ Man in Black - you should change your name to Idiot in Blinkers - the only way the All Blanks can win is by cheating - ask your Captain he admits to it & that says a lot for a leader - Bokke are the current RWC holders/Tri-Nation Champs - SA currently S14 Champs - spot a bit of envy their boet - suck it in be a "Man" and deal with it..d**s

  • Dean @Yawn and Man in Black..... - 2010-07-29 14:12

    Hey girls, don't remember seeing either of you clowns on here last year when you lost 3 on the trot. Fairweather supporters? Go have a cry like your captain after the loss to France (oh hang on didn't you lot whinge like baby's about the ref after that game???) So fairweather supporters and hypocrites. I'm sure we can get someone to come over and give you a hug, you seem to need one.

  • Preston - 2010-07-29 15:50

    Yawn .....(sigh), nothing in this world can come close as the FIFA semi final between Germany and Spain.......(sigh).....

  • Darwinia - 2010-07-29 17:01

    Spiro Zavos is a disgrace to journalism. Time to take him on big time. It's up to you guys from Sport 24. You write better, are much more objective and at least have decent rugby knowledge. Go get that clown.

  • Eisch - 2010-07-31 10:18

    I remember last year when we trashed the All backs three times in a row on. What I remember clearly as that during the last 10 minutes or so of each game the All blacks game at us with open play running rugby. Though we won those games, we had no answer for those kinds of attacks which sprouted from senseless Bok kicking, giving the AB's the ball, while our defense was scattered with huge holes...and this was last year. This year the AB's are playing that game from the word go, and we are still giving them our possession, whilst our defense is stretched and scattered all over the field. Stop giving away possession, kick, but kick cleverly. Keep the defense tight. AND STOP THE UNFORCED ERRORS.

  • Brandon Wiese - 2010-08-02 09:52

    Over many years of following the ups and downs of bok rugby I am fascinated by mr. Zavros's obvious amount of venom, anger, hatred and sheer disdain for SA and the bokke. As a person in the bok camp you have enough to deal with locally, with all the conflict, debatable selections and politics that go with South Africa... We will also deserved and mostly undeserved have to deal with the rest of the world's absolute hatred of us and all that we represent. I'm convinced that we have ourselves to blame for alot but we also have the most physically gifted, best rugby players nature can produce despite everything..... The sooner we (of all the rainbow colours) accept this and start to pick the best players in their positions irrespective of province and politics we will rock the world. Whatever the boks are or are not lately - name a better player in each position and let's see what they can do?

  • Brandon Wiese - 2010-08-02 09:56

    Over many years of following the ups and downs of bok rugby I am fascinated by mr. Zavros's obvious amount of venom, anger, hatred and sheer disdain for SA and the bokke. As a person in the bok camp you have enough to deal with locally, with all the conflict, debatable selections and politics that go with South Africa... We will also deserved and mostly undeserved have to deal with the rest of the world's absolute hatred of us and all that we represent. I'm convinced that we have ourselves to blame for alot but we also have the most physically gifted, best rugby players nature can produce despite everything..... The sooner we (of all the rainbow colours) accept this and start to pick the best players in their positions irrespective of province and politics we will rock the world. Whatever the boks are or are not lately - name a better player in each position and let's see what they can do?

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