Boks in UK

Why the world needs the Boks

2012-11-06 10:31
Editor of ArenaSport, David Moseley (File)
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Boks brace for Ireland

2012-11-06 08:49

Check out pictures from the Springbok training session ahead of their game against Ireland in Dublin.

There’s not much in the Irish media regarding Ireland’s upcoming Test match against the Springboks. What little there is, however, is typically derisory of the Boks’ style of play.

This line, for instance, from The Independent, “Anyone who sat through the turgid meetings of South Africa and Argentina in the recent Rugby Championship will know what to expect at Lansdowne Road this month. Neither side is pretty, but they will both lay down physical markers early on and look to dominate the contact zone.”

The Boks often take flak for their perceived one-dimensional approach to the game. Certainly this year there have been moments when Plan A has been panned as outdated, with Plans B through Z non-existent.

Frustrated fans have called for a more expansive approach from Heyneke Meyer’s charges to such an extent that the introduction of Johan Goosen into the team was treated like the second coming of Carlos Spencer. The boy’s good, but he’ll be no midfield messiah without the foundation of that traditional Bok strength – raw power.

The basics are just fine

While it’s true that South African teams can get bogged down with the basics (particularly the overly defence-minded Stormers), it’s that very “basic” approach which makes watching Springbok rugby such a visceral experience. When the Boks are fired up and on song there is no better team to watch. The hits are jarring, the drives are punishing and the overall physical dominance is breathe-taking. It’s true that nearly every rugby nation boasts enormous physical specimens. The difference with the Boks, however, is that you always get the impression that they enjoy the collisions.

Think of the handful (sadly) of South Africa’s modern era greatest wins; the 36-0 trouncing of England at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the first half of the first Test against the British & Irish Lions in 2009, or the 52-10 walloping of France in 1997. In these games the perfect storm (Frankenstorm if you’ve been following Hurricane Sandy) of Bok power and finesse was on display.

For rugby purists those games had it all: fearsome scrums, superior tactical kicking, calm heads (except in the second half of that Lions game) and decisive backline play. In those moments the Boks showed the rugby world that their way, and not the idolised run-from-angles All Black approach, was the right way.

South Africa will never beat the All Blacks at their own game. But look how the All Blacks struggle when they’re faced with a strong Bok side. Even this year, when the Boks lost 21-11 in Dunedin, the All Blacks were on the back foot for most the game against a mostly clueless South African team. It was purely physical, and the Boks almost burgled the win.

Similarity breeds contempt

Rugby is a clash of styles, and that’s why Test matches between the All Blacks and South Africa are, usually, such mouth-watering affairs. This has not been a vintage year for rugby by any stretch, but imagine if all teams followed the same script. We’d lose all the glorious nuances that make the game so compelling.

The rugby world needs the Springboks, and it needs Meyer to get the Boks playing effectively to their strengths. Because when they do, when that diesel engine warms up and starts growling through the gears, the carnage out on the field makes for the best rugby viewing.

We know the All Blacks will produce slick handling, we know the Wallabies will run themselves into the ground, we know the Scots will turn a Test into a dog fight, we know the French will do whatever they feel like despite the wishes and intentions of their coaching staff. These are all clichés. But they’ve become clichés because they’re true. The only problem with the Bok cliché of wanting to obliterate opponents is that they haven’t followed through on their expected promise.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Boks’ style of play. When they’re on song the Bok strategy is a thing of vicious rugby beauty. It’s just that they’re not pulling it off at the moment, hence the frantic cries to be more expansive (because that always works so well for South African teams, like the Cheetahs).

South Africa is a national team packed with brutes, exceptionally skilful ones at that. But they don’t use the broadswords to their advantage. When they do, and who knows if they’ll d find their way under Meyer, not even the All Blacks will be able to stand the heat.

David Moseley is a former Features Editor of Sports Illustrated and current editor of sports magazine website ArenaSport. Click HERE to follow ArenaSport on Twitter.

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