Cape Town – Many of Heyneke Meyer’s first Springbok squad of
2015, to be revealed on Saturday afternoon, will report for international duty
straight off worryingly bankrupt Super Rugby campaigns for their franchises.
It will be the Bok coach’s job to freshen them up as quickly
as possible, in some ways having to dismantle bad -- or at least fairly sterile,
overly predictable -- habits.
Not only did the collective South African challenge in the
competition fail to muster a single semi-finalist, but the local conference was
marked by a significantly try-shy phenomenon.
Between them, the five teams from our shores managed a
closing tally (after the Stormers played one extra game in a short-lived finals
series presence) of only 184 tries: that measures up badly to the New Zealand
scoreboard of 240 and Australian tally of 196, with those countries still
boasting two teams each with lingering interest in the competition.
By registering just one try in the heavy knockout defeat
against the Brumbies at Newlands last Saturday – and that an intercept by
Cheslin Kolbe – the Stormers, conference title-winners, closed with an
uninspiring 33 tries from 17 matches, an average of 1.94 per game.
South Africa’s dubious “charge” for tries was led by the
lowly, 12th-ending Cheetahs, who notched 44 to finish sixth overall
(all of the semi-finalists for this Saturday are already stronger-placed) in
You get a strong sense that many enthusiasts in this country
have become increasingly disillusioned with the brand of rugby being served up
domestically: when tries have been scored by our sides in Super Rugby, they
have tended to be dominated by the rolling-maul variety or crudely bashing a
big forward specimen over the whitewash at close quarters.
Meyer may have his detractors – every Bok coach inevitably
does – but try-scoring, and much of it mercifully involving slick hand-to-hand
play, is a culture much more ingrained in his charges than is the case one tier
lower in the Super Rugby landscape.
So those who take a largely doom-laden view of the Springboks’
prospects in this World Cup year (Meyer’s fourth in charge and most definitive
yet) might to do well to temper their thoughts by knowledge that the men in
green and gold ought to produce a more up-tempo and inventive style than they
have become accustomed to witnessing for several months here in the
In short, Meyer is big on physicality, but that doesn’t mean
he advocates the kind of “stampkar” rugby some observers unjustly charge that
he does – Bulls teams of his Currie Cup and Super 14 heyday at Loftus also
notched plenty of easy-on-the-eye tries, sometimes striking from a long way out
on the park.
Perhaps understandably in his maiden year at the helm, in
2012, the Boks bagged 23 tries in 12 Tests which was a reasonably humdrum
But both his 2013 and 2014 international campaigns saw a
noticeable explosion (in a positive sense) in Bok visits across the tryline.
The 2013 year featured a swollen 48 tries in 12 Bok matches
– easy average of exactly four per match – and that was a better stat than even
the mighty All Blacks could boast: they got three tries more, but from two
There wasn’t a massive downward trend in 2014, when South
Africa pressed 44 tries from 14 outings (including the World XV game) and the
world champions 52 from as many starts.
Super Rugby was grim viewing for the most part this year in
a South African sense ... but don’t write off the possibility that Meyer’s Boks
bring some of the fun and enterprise back.
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