Boks in UK
Boks to bank ‘boring’ for now
Cape Town - Revolutionary changes to the game-plan for South Africa’s final Test of the year against England at Twickenham on Saturday?
Forget it, I suspect.
At least for the time being, the Springbok hierarchy - coaches and senior players alike - will almost certainly continue to take accusations that they are blunt, boring and brutally forward-obsessed stubbornly on the chin.Video highlights: Scotland v South Africa
The Boks are on the verge of a first clean-sweep conquest in the northern hemisphere since 2008, when it was also a relatively short, three-match undertaking.
Thus far, the tours have other things in common: after the first two matches four years ago, South Africa’s wins (against Wales and Scotland) had also not earned especially enthusiastic acclaim.
The then-World Cup champions had beaten the Welsh 20-15 and the Scots 14-10, and there was a school of thought that both matches had actually deserved to go the other way - at least this time, the 16-12 and 21-10 victories over Ireland and Scotland respectively have been reasonably apt outcomes whatever the merits and demerits of the South African performances.
Be that as it may, the Boks of 2008 - touring with a stronger pool of first-team stalwarts than they are now, it probably needs to be noted - were stung into more fluid action in the last match at “Twickers”, posting a record tally of points against the unsuspecting English at their stronghold as they romped home 42-6 and by five tries to nil.
It may be seriously optimistic to expect anything like that score-line again, and maybe also the 20-14 loss for the home side against the so-so Wallabies this weekend wasn’t quite the result the 2012 Boks might have hoped for; England ought to be in some sort of chastened, redemption mode on Saturday.
Once again, however, you can safely bet that Heyneke Meyer
will gratefully bank another win, virtually regardless of how it is achieved.
Without wishing to sound like the apologist for the head honcho that I am defiantly not, Bok coaches always have to be mindful of their “win/loss ratios” because they are, simply, constantly reminded of them by public and press alike.
Meyer entered this particular tour under pressure on that front - he had hitherto managed a dangerously low four triumphs from nine starts, and suddenly his six from 11 seems rather more palatable on paper, doesn’t it?
If he can claim England’s scalp for the third time in four meetings this season (one dead-rubber draw at Port Elizabeth), his record will balloon, whether you like it or not, to seven from 12.
He would have some pretty good statistical ammunition, under those circumstances, for saying that his troops are slowly maturing and that winning is at least starting to become a bit more habitual again after his first season at the job.
This might again sound like a defence of Meyer, but the end-of-year venture is also a less than suitable or realistic time for many of his near-exhausted, over-played resources to be willing to tear up a template at short notice and muster the mental energy to determinedly make it “sexier” with the snap of the fingers.
The vast majority of the key Bok players, I have no doubt, will happily eke out another win in London, by hook or by crook, and then go off on much-needed holiday.
Regroup? Rethink? Pah, save it for next year.
A key objective of this tour, given its relevance to seedings for the next World Cup, was to secure and then fortify status as second-ranked team on the planet behind runaway leaders New Zealand, and that goal is obviously well on track.
But that is not to say that Bok supporters who are getting increasingly militant about the sterile, shackle-dragging manner in which the national team have been going about their business recently don’t have every reason to do so.
South Africa are certainly strangling pretty limited opponents in a rather joyless, battering fashion on this particular tour and even Meyer must know deep down that a significant drive to rekindle a gradually slipping skills factor among backs and forwards alike will be necessary in 2013 if the Boks are to at least close the gap on the ever-sprightly All Blacks
whose “brand”, frankly, deserves and doubtless commands much broader appeal worldwide at present.
While lamenting the not dissimilar bankruptcy in playing style of this year’s England side, former British and Irish Lions lock Paul Ackford acidly observed in the Sunday Telegraph of the Boks: “Can’t do much else apart from scrummage, crunch the breakdowns and smash the collisions.”
Who knows, perhaps two negatives will combine to create an unlikely “positive” in spectacle terms at Twickenham on Saturday?
If lucky enough to anticipate one, just don’t stake your Christmas bonus on it.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing