Tank Lanning

Boks could be even better

2009-06-29 09:24
Sport24 editor, Tank Lanning
Tank Lanning

So the Boks won the second test against the Lions in a thoroughly absorbing and highly entertaining match, and thus took the series to avenge the pain of 1997. As fans, we should be thankful, and just walk away thinking “Job well done” right?

Well, we could, but would that not just be a little too simplistic? Simon Shaw might have been the official man of the match, but surely from a pure rugby point of view (yes, I am suggesting that there was some sentiment in that decision), the three people that changed the shape of this match were Heinrich Brussow, Jacque Fourie and Morne Steyn?

Hence my question about being too simplistic. You see – none of these players started the match! Now of course one could argue that rugby is now about the twenty two man squad and not only about the run on fifteen, and that is true. But again, perhaps a little too simplistic …

After Ricky Januarie scored that relatively lucky try in Dunedin last year taking the Boks to a very famous victory, I took a lot of heat in the comments for a column suggesting “What if the bounce had gone over Januarie’s head”. Rugby is about luck, I was told, and you run with it when it goes your way. So am certainly not going down the “What if” road today, but I do think the best time to learn is when you are winning, and it would be wrong to just move on from this series win without looking for ways to improve.

Now I said no “What ifs” but let’s consider this - the Lions lost both props, meaning that at a time when they definitely had the ascendancy come scrum time (an amazing turnaround given what went down in the first test), and with a good 30 minutes still to go in the game, uncontested scrums were called. The Lions also lost both Brian O'Driscoll (concussion) and Jamie Roberts (arm), who as a combination were without doubt the Lions biggest attacking weapon. Yes injuries happen, but that is pretty damn unlucky!

This, together with a Bok resurgence instigated by the three bench boys mentioned up front, turned the game around. Could the coaching staff have done things differently? I think so …

It’s a moot point given that Schalk Burger will now deservedly miss the final Lions test and Tri-Nations as punishment for his scum like actions in the first minute of the game, but to my mind, Brussow should have been brought onto the field a lot earlier than he was. In fact, he should have started the game. But Div first brought Danie Russouw onto the field, and it was only because of his concussion that Brussow finally made it onto the field. What does the coach have against this game changer? The Lions were keeping ball in hand in order to avoid the Bok lineout, so the Bok defence was crying out for someone to slow down their ball. Instead the Boks had Burger, who was far too upright with ball in hand and thus giving away Bok ball, while also not slowing down Lions ball. When will Peter De Villiers learn the value of an out an out fetcher?

Morne Steyn just has to be the Bok flyhalf. This is no disrespect to Ruan Pienaar who is one of the more talented players to pull on a Bok jersey. But let’s keep the specialists for the run on XV, and the all rounders for the bench. That then also adds to the coach’s ability to change a game given the versatility of the extra seven players. Test matches are not won by throwing the ball around. They are won using astute positional kicking, and a watertight defence. Along with being able to slot your penalties and conversions of course! Steyn is a general in the true sense of the word, and he is the man you want running your backline and taking your pots at goal.

Jacque Fourie is a world class game breaker and also needs to be in the starting XV. Rob Kearney’s try came because Bryan Habana held back to make sure Adi Jacobs made his tackle. Defence is about structures, but also about confidence … Confidence that the man on your inside is going to do the job he is supposed to do. Do the players have that confidence in Jacobs? Fourie is also a physically imposing beast. And he was able to use that physicality to grab that touchline try for the Boks.

The “Coaching 101” manual says replace your props with more mobile specimens as soon as uncontested scrums form part of the game. After all - Why have the bulky muscle on the park when it is not needed? Both Beast Mtawarira and John Smit finished the game. Now the latter one can understand given that he is the skipper, along with the furore that went with his replacing last week. But it would have been an ideal opportunity to bring Danie Russow on to scrum against Shaw, who had been moved to the front row by the Lions coaching staff. A missed opportunity …

Do not get me wrong – I am very chuffed with the series win. But I really do think that the Boks, through a few selection and substitution errors, have made this Lions touring outfit look a whole lot better than they are.

Tank is a former WP prop, now editor of Sport24 and author of the Front Row Grunt

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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