Naka: Don't write SBW off
Bloemfontein - The Springboks will be making a huge mistake if they harbour under the impression that professional boxer Sonny Bill Williams is no longer a factor on the rugby field.
That is the warning from Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské, whose team proved so effective at neutralising Williams that the home team managed to beat the Crusaders 33-20.
"The other South African teams and the Springboks will be making a huge mistake if they are under the impression that the Sonny Bill Williams-factor no longer exists. He remains a special player capable of breaking through any defence in the blink of an eye," said Drotské.
Williams was given no space thanks to a master plan devised by the Cheetahs' coaching staff. The team-mate he wanted to off-load to in contact was stopped behind the advantage line.
Former Springbok centre Brendan Venter had written in his weekly column about how teams could make Williams look ordinary. Williams's play had, in fact, not particularly impressed Venter.
However, Drotské said that the contribution of Cheetahs defence coach Michael Horak should not be underestimated in the victory over the Crusaders.
"Brendan is a big friend of mine and today probably the biggest expert on defence in the world. Even so, I feel that the credit for our defence against Williams should go to Michael and our centre pairing of Robert Ebersohn and Barry Geel," said Drotské.
According to Drotské, Horak had already started devising special plans as a counter for Williams's special skills prior to the publication of Venter's column.
"The planning of how to defend against the Crusaders was done by Michael and full marks to the players for their execution."
Horak played Test rugby for England, represented Saracens and also played for Free State earlier in his career.
Ebersohn's defence has been singled out for praise this year by team-mate and Springbok centre Andries Strauss. Statistics prove Strauss is correct as Wynand Olivier of the Bulls, with 132 tackles, is the only South African centre to have made more tackles than Ebersohn (123) in this year's Super Rugby tournament.
According to ruggastats.com, Geel's 17 tackles was the second most by a Cheetahs player against the Crusaders. Only replacement flank Kabamba Floors (18) was better.
Drotské said that while the Cheetahs' defence was good against Williams and the Crusaders, it was not yet perfect.
"The challenge remains to get the players on the same wavelength for a full 80 minutes and to get them to stick to the same system. We must now forget about the victory over the Crusaders and focus on the Rebels, who have managed a few surprise results this year," said Drotské.