Tank Lanning

Baby Boks not that bad

2015-06-18 08:01
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)

Were the Baby Boks that bad? I am not so sure!

Away on a long weekend up the West Coast, I missed their semi-final against England on Monday night, and as such, got to see the vitriol on Twitter before watching the game on PVR.

Perhaps it softened the blow, but based on that, I was expecting a complete obliteration.

And while it was not pretty from our designated national second side, I am not sure many sides would have got through the rough justice metered out in the first half.

The two yellow cards issued by Kiwi referee Brendon Pickerill for so called high tackles were very harsh on the South Africans. I am not sure either of them would have warranted even a penalty in Super Rugby!

Playing with 14 men for 20 minutes is tough on any side, but the fact that it resulted in the first full 16-man scrum taking place in the 34th minute was the death knell for Dawie Theron’s side. With two re-treaded loosehead props responsible for the tighthead side of the scrum, it was always going to be an area targeted by England.

Turn it into a 7 v 8 man affair, and it was like lambs to the slaughter. And for a side reliant on physical dominance, the hammering they took in the scrums, including a pushover try, would have hurt them physically, but perhaps more importantly, psychologically.

And then came the roughest justice of the night. Having seen 34 minutes of an 8-man England scrum decimating a 7-man SA scrum, I think that influenced Pickerill’s call to award England the penalty try just before half-time. In fact, I defy anyone to tell the difference between the scrum that resulted in the penalty try awarded in the 38th minute and the scrum in the 45th minute that saw South Africa awarded a penalty for England's “walking around”.

Hitting the shed down 6-11 having survived 2 yellows would have been very different to 6-18.

Perhaps skipper Hanro Liebenberg would then have taken the points instead of his incredibly bad call to turn them down three times early in the second half? Chasing the game changes things, especially for a skipper so young.

That said, the Baby Boks were their own worst enemies on the night. Sure conditions were tough, but holding onto the ball seemed a skill not deemed worthy of practicing, especially amongst the back three. Going in with a re-treaded loosehead at tighthead was always going to be a risk, and it backfired badly.

Did they have a plan B for when things got tough up front? Probably not, but asking for it in a World Cup semi-final played with 14 men for 60 minutes seems a touch harsh.

Would a win have plastered over the cracks? Yes, and let’s make that the good to come out of this loss.

Our issue starts at schools rugby, where we have let it become about winning, not entertaining. It’s also easier for a part-time coach to coach one off runners and driving mauls. So we tend to just pick the big okes and play that game. So from the get-go, we breed this “bully up front” type rugby culture.

This instead of building skills that enable players to beat their man with guile, pace and fleet of foot, with a view to scoring tries via an entertaining game to watch.

But who makes this call? Who coaches the coaches? And are we doing enough to develop our coaches?

As with effective player contracting, I am not sure it can be done without some sort of centralisation. Rassie Erasmus knows his oats, but how effective will his centralised special unit be as only an advisory body? Has the time come to give that unit more power? But then how do you finance it?

Perhaps the time has come for SARU to farm less of the TV rights money out to the unions, and rather spend it on devising a better, more evolved national game plan, and on enabling our coaches to coach this new game plan?

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.

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