Time for Boks to go for broke
Gavin Rich - SuperSport
With the Grand Slam dream left behind in the dark Murrayfield mud into which they were unceremoniously trampled by buoyant Scotland, the Springboks will start the final week of the Test match part of this tour needing to make a couple of massive decisions.
There are in fact several huge decisions to be made across several levels of South African rugby in the coming weeks, but the one that should concern Bok coach Peter de Villiers right now is what game he wants his team to play against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Many would say he has used up his last chance already, for many a Bok coach has been sacked for far less than what De Villiers has been allowed to get away with. But there is a chance of some form of redemption if the Boks beat England.
It certainly won’t balance the books for the year – arguably not even the Grand Slam would have done that given the alarming way the Boks have slipped in 2010 – but if the Boks can win on Saturday showing some kind of innovation to their game, then De Villiers will at least have some small bargaining tool.
To do that though De Villiers is going to have to go for broke and be prepared to bank on the path blazed by John Plumtree and the Sharks coaching staff. Already, even before the Scotland defeat, he was hinting that he might be prepared to start with Patrick Lambie for the first time in the final test of the tour.
It was always going to be a big call, but it becomes even bigger now given the desperate need for the Boks to save some face after the calamitous 21-17 defeat to Scotland, a result which surely now leaves De Villiers just one loss away from certain dismissal.
Lambie’s omission from the team to play Scotland was criticized last week but when match day dawned bleak and drizzly in Edinburgh, many South Africans would have been pleased the selection had not been made.
Fine player that he is, it is doubtful that Lambie is at this stage of his career the best option as a wet weather player, and bringing him on with 20 minutes to go of a match that was being decided by place-kicks was just the latest in a long line of highly questionable substitutions made in the De Villiers era.
But, provided it is a dry day, if the Boks are to show any signs of growth in their game on this tour, they are going to have to show some innovation in the strategy they adopt against England. Will De Villiers be prepared to do that, particularly given that leaving out Steyn from the start would be a high risk selection as it would rob the team of their most reliable goalkicker?
The problem for De Villiers is that if Lambie is going to work out, he needs like-minded players around him. His best rugby in 2010 was played with Charl McLeod as his halfback partner, and if the Boks are to make the necessary tempo adjustment to their game, they are also going to require the pace of Keegan Daniel.
One of the stars of the Currie Cup, Daniel has been ignored thus far on this trip with the exception of a brief cameo towards the end of the Ireland game. But Deon Stegmann hasn’t really worked out as the fetcher, and Daniel was the form player in the team that sign-posted the route the Boks should take if they want to be progressive.
Yet it may well be the one area that is unlikely to see change, and perhaps shouldn’t see any change, is the one that will decide if De Villiers' team has any chance of scoring what would be a seventh consecutive win over England in a sequence that dates back to 2006.
It was the tight forwards who paved the way for the win over Ireland in the opening match, but it was the Scottish ability to front them in all aspects of the forward battle that laid the foundation for the upset win. With the Boks not having grown their game at all since the last World Cup, that is usually all it takes for an opposing team to become almost certain of victory.
And that is the problem – the Boks have little plan other than physical domination. If the physical dominance doesn’t happen, they are lost. That is why, regardless of the result of the Twickenham match, some hard decisions need to be made by the Saru administrators during the summer and in the little time that remains before the next season rolls into view and the 2011 World Cup year starts.
Eight defeats since the end of last year’s Tri-Nations is just too many, and there have been too many massive mistakes made along the way, for the Boks to return home at the end of this tour pretending that it’s business as usual.