Jaco Kriel (Gallo Image)
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 ...
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 ...
Don’t pick a scrumhalf based almost solely on the strength of his tactical
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.
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 ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing