Tank Lanning

Boks go back to basics

2013-09-05 07:51
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
So the Boks have one poor game in Mendoza, and it is out with any hint of “ball in hand, take on the opposition with guile and skill” and back to the blunt force trauma up front, defend like Fort Knox, and chase balls that will spend more time with the angels than in the hands of the players...

OK, so that is a tad hyperbolic, but you get my drift.

This Bok side, against massive odds in Brisbane - where they have not won since 1971, is not about to launch into carnival style rugby with a view to entertaining the crowd with scintillating tries from inside their own 22. It will be more about using industrial defence to strangle the opposition into making errors, then using the turnover ball to play in the opposition half via astute kicking from Ruan Pienaar and Morne Steyn, then powering over the tryline using the legalised obstruction that is the driving maul.

All three changes to the side that played in Mendoza point to a more conservative, physical, gameplan, so the debate is not around what type of game the Boks will play, but around whether it is the correct one.

It was quite fun taking in a conversation on Twitter on this exact topic between a dyed in the wool, well respected journalist, who is currently on tour with the Boks, and a locally based blogger with a strong following. Like all conversations this week, it started with the Zane Kirchner selection, and moved onto whether SA rugby fans would prefer to “win ugly” or perhaps be happy to lose while trying to play a more attractive brand of rugby.

We all know where coach Heyneke Meyer stands. This primarily because his job depends on winning games, but also because he is inherently a fairly conservative coach. And the fact that he has felt the need to defend both the Kirchner selection, and Kirchner the player, speaks to how this single selection is perceived by the public as a return to a more “traditional” Bok gameplan.

A gameplan that I, and seemingly plenty others based on comments seen on this site, my Blog, and various social media platforms, are fast believing to be slightly antiquated. But you try arguing that face to face with the coach. He has a ream of stats as long as the amount of noughts on a Bryan Habana Toulon pay cheque to defend both Kirchner and the gameplan. And he is an extremely astute rugby man.

Hence the journalists on tour, subject to the daily Meyer dialogue, finding it difficult to argue against the plan for Saturday. I have been there ... Without noticing it, all those on tour, including the media, tend to form a bit of a band, defending decisions made by those leading the band. And that bond gets tighter as results get worse. It is a strange phenomenon, especially given that those outside the band tend to view the situation through very different glasses to the ones being worn by people inside the band...

When in Mendoza for the Bok Test two weeks ago, it was interesting to see hundreds of ads for the All Black Test later this month, but only two for the Bok game. At best the stadium was three quarters full for the Bok Test, yet it will be jam packed for the All Black Test. Argentineans definitely see the All Black Test as the bigger game. Could it be because of the type of rugby they play?

But enough with the psycho-babble, and back to Saturday... has Meyer picked the right team for the job at hand? In not being confident enough to take on the likes of Folau, O’Conner, Cooper and Genia in open space, yes, it does make sense to beef up the pack, take on what is a fairly brittle Aussie tight five, and aim to smash the flyhalf channel, especially given that it is now occupied by Quade Cooper, with the likes of Alberts, Vermeulen and Etzebeth.

Cooper crumbles, and the Boks win. Cooper fires, and the Boks lose.

Oh for the day when we select and play to a more ball in hand kind of game though.

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop and editor of the recently launched free monthly digital rugby magazine called SCRUM

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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