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3 ways to pep up Bok attack

2015-11-04 13:00

Cape Town – Whether or not it remains under the guiding hand of current coach Heyneke Meyer, there is widespread agreement that South Africa need to significantly buck up their ball-in-hand game in the wake of RWC 2015.

The Springboks ended with the relative respectability of “bronze”, but their long-suffering supporters largely yearn for more than that, and the team’s sense of adventure and ability to mix up their play regressed in each of their three matches beyond the pool phase.

Here are just a trio of recommended methods toward a more multi-faceted playing style, if the Boks are serious about becoming less predictable and conservative ...

1 Unearth a speedy, linking loose forward

In many respects, the Boks were outstandingly served by their front-line loosies – Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Schalk Burger – at the World Cup. All are proven class acts, with plenty of shelf life potentially still to offer the cause, assuming each desires that (Burger is the most undecided over his green-and-gold future, it seems). But “many respects” doesn’t mean “all”: if the Boks are to pep up their attack, how about introducing a Rob Louw-like loose forward with the gifts of genuine pace and perhaps even a wicked step? At the moment, their trio is a tad lopsidedly geared toward the trench warfare aspects of Test rugby, with no room for a true whippet able to burst over – not just toward -- the advantage line and link consistently effectively with backline players. So who should be considered from the domestic scene? The Lions’ explosive Currie Cup-winning flanker Jaco Kriel comes to mind in a hurry; that is his very forte. But maybe we also shouldn’t discount yet any fresh claims by the Stormers/WP’s tearaway athlete Nizaam Carr. Still only 24, his year started badly as he was curbed by the effects of off-season illness and then never really caught fire to the extent his 2014 campaign did. Keep in mind that he had earned two deserved end-of-year Bok tour caps as a substitute that season, including smartly teeing up a try against Italy in Padova. Warren Whiteley is another rangy character, of course, who loves making major yardage with the ball tucked under an arm ...      

2 Don’t pick a scrumhalf based almost solely on the strength of his tactical kicking game

Former New Zealand and also Golden Lions coach John Mitchell picked up recently on the fact that for all his known mastery of No 9 play, the 33-year-old Fourie du Preez perhaps “overkicked” at the World Cup and was too often the dedicated Bok string-puller tactically. Who knows, maybe advancing age and the ravages of injury have inhibited Du Preez’s confidence in breaking and sniping? His similarly experienced deputy, Ruan Pienaar, also looked overly formulaic in own RWC exposure ... so in short, the Boks lacked notable game-breaking potential at scrumhalf. Rudy Paige (he of the publicly-unpopular mere three minutes against Argentina last Friday) offers good future credentials in that his box-kicking is pretty smart and astute, but he can also be an elusive factor on the run. In players like Faf de Klerk, Cobus Reinach and the perhaps cruelly cold-shouldered Francois Hougaard, South Africa possesses further nippy scrumhalves who may have their drawbacks, but are undeniably bothersome and unpredictable to opponents – qualities sadly lacking at Springbok level of late.    

3 Free the hand currently tied behind poor Handre Pollard’s back

As mentioned previously, with the veteran, 2007 RWC-winning scrumhalf Du Preez so frequently entrusted with Bok decision-making, the Boks really only pulled the “empowerment” carpet from beneath young pivot Pollard. It might be said that the very reason flyhalves were invented was to dictate play ... something Naas Botha from yesteryear used to thrive on (and no, he wasn’t just a deadly kicker), with more modern batons later being taken over by characters like Jonny Wilkinson and the sublime Dan Carter. Instead I felt too often in his maiden World Cup that 21-year-old Pollard was damagingly shackled in terms of any licence to play situations as he saw them. He can be an extraordinarily good line-breaker and long, crisp passer of a rugby ball, but those key strings to his bow were muzzled by the Boks’ all too obvious unwillingness much of the time to stretch the ball beyond inside centre! He does need work on his kicking out of hand, for sure, but his pure talent was perhaps better recognised by neutrals at RWC 2015 than it was appreciated by Bok supporters who should also have taken greater notice of the limited directional faith put in him ...   

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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