Tank Lanning

Bok train on the right track

2014-09-25 10:01
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
When judging the strength of a side, I look at the bench, and based solely on that, I think Heyneke Meyer has announced the most balanced Bok side of the tournament to date.

Two specialist props, the best hooker in the world, one of the finest enforcers to ever play the game, an experienced loosie that covers all three positions, an exciting new scrummie, a flyhalf that plays the same game as the starting general, and oodles of class and experience out wide.

That is a proper Bok bench, and given that the modern day game really is about the match day 23 rather than the run on XV, the depth must be incredibly comforting for the coach. How he chooses to employ this weapon is another story. Prone to leaving it a little too late early in his stint as Bok mentor, I do think he has improved in his use of the bench as he has become more trusting of the bodies sitting on it. At Newlands on Saturday, he need have no fear, even at scrumhalf, where the incredibly exciting and deserved Cobus Reinach gets a start.

Speaking of scrumhalf, poor old Ruan Pienaar came in for a world of criticism before being helped off the field in Wellington two weeks ago. But given that replacement Francois Hougaard played the exact same game - which included some incredibly frustrating kicks that gifted the opposition ball the Boks would have thrived on - it is clear that these guys play to a plan enforced by the coaching staff.

Meyer, who quite clearly reads the papers and surfs the news sites like this one, was at pains to point out that the All Blacks actually kick more than the Boks, and that his aim is not to play a kicking game. And while that may be true (something I am beginning to believe more and more), it’s about when and where those kicks originate, and how effective they are. The All Blacks tend to kick from 10 and 12, after taking a look at what's happening in front of them, while the Boks still definitely have a tendency to kick from 9, before having a look. So it is to a plan, rather than to how it can be used based on the opposition set up at the time.

Francois Hougaard, one of my players of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, even though playing from the bench, is an incredibly exciting player. Pienaar has regularly been named one of the European players of the year since moving to Ulster. Yet both have been average for the Boks. Perhaps it is the game plan that is coaching the creativity out of them, rather than them delivering poor performances?

Meyer has asked for a dry surface on Saturday so the Boks can show off their ball in hand game. Given what we saw in Wellington, even though it came with too many errors as players get used to seeing more of the ball, I believe him, and think this to be 100% the way forward. Hence Handre Pollard, happy to take the ball a little flatter, thus sucking in defenders, and send it wide before always going to the boot, being the man for the No 10 jersey.

But for this plan to come full circle, I do think Meyer is going to have to trust his scrumhalf to make calls based on what’s in front of him a little more.

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.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.



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