Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former
Springbok coach CAREL DU PLESSIS talks new trends, finding a balance between brain and brawn, and
looks ahead to South Africa's Test against Argentina in Salta on Saturday.
asked: Since signing off from professional coaching, how have you channelled
your passion for the oval game?
du Plessis: I’m involved in a business that
provides sports technology to clients, and part of it is analysis of rugby. As
a result, from statistical data, I have a good understanding of the new trends
which have developed within the game. For example, over
the last few seasons, in a broader sense, the ball-in-play time has increased
markedly. I’ve observed how the top teams, in particular, have and continue to
up the ante in terms of active time in play, ball possession and field
asked: Los Pumas legend Hugo Porta has described the modern game as a “war of
muscles”. Do you believe there is now a greater emphasis on physicality rather
du Plessis: Not necessarily. While
athletes are stronger, fitter and better-conditioned for the demands of the
game today, I believe that the oval game continually evolves. We experienced a
phase in the game where a lot of play was built around the ball-carrier and the
resultant momentum. However, I’m of the opinion that much of the game is now
centred around creating line-breaks in order to manipulate defence systems,
which have really improved over time. Bulky ball-carriers are always important,
but flair players like Willie le Roux, for instance, are worth their weight in
gold. Ultimately, a coach’s objective is to find an ideal balance between brain
24 asked: How would you grade the current Springbok side coached by Heyneke
Meyer? Have you seen enough signs of initiative and innovation?
du Plessis: We have traditionally built our game
around physicality and strong first-phase. In the past decade, because our game
was focused largely on power-play it became rather predictable. Under Meyer’s
mentorship, the Boks have become less one-dimensional. Meyer has seen the value
in selecting a player like Le Roux, and I would encourage him to select a few
more stars with a similar skill-set. It’s crucial that the consumer of the
product remains excited by the brand of rugby played.
asked: Former Saru CEO Rian Oberholzer described you as a visionary. Do you
believe you were ahead of your time in terms of the playing philosophy you
aimed to introduce in 1997?
du Plessis: It’s difficult for me to say whether or
not I was ahead of my time, but I believe it’s healthy for professional rugby
coaches to have different approaches and philosophies to the game. What I enjoy
from certain coaches today, is seeing skills being coached into both forwards’
and backs’ play. For example, the evasive skill involved when targeting a soft
spot in a defender rather than hitting the wall the whole time. The implication
of this is that you then need to somewhat alter the structure of your attacking
formation. While defence is important, I have always believed that the game is
as much about offence. The shape of your attack, attacking formations and
positioning of your support play is vital, and the top rugby teams have made significant
strides in this regard.
asked: Meyer has said that the Boks’ fitness levels need to improve
considerably if they are to consistently challenge, and beat, the best sides in
world rugby? What’s your take?
du Plessis: Fitness and conditioning are always
important aspects to work on, but I believe that you must first understand the
base from which you are working. For instance, if a coach comes out and says
that he feels his side’s fitness levels are questionable, he must then go back
and determine the team’s energy-efficiency in terms of their playing
philosophy. If a team focuses on a possession-based game strategy, then they
will naturally burn more energy than those that do not. As such, a team’s style
of play will dictate the fitness levels that need to be supported. Furthermore,
if fitness levels remain questionable, I believe it is paramount to examine and
manage player workload better.
asked: You faced South America on your Springbok debut in 1982. Outline for us
the long-held camaraderie between the two countries?
du Plessis: While the ’82 test match was a proud
moment and memorable day for me as a player, I took equal delight in playing
against Argentinian club sides on tour. In a way, I’ve always seen South Africa
as a caretaker for the growth of Argentinian rugby. While the current Pumas
side are now playing in a different forum, I believe there has always been a
mutual respect and healthy rivalry between the two teams. While the Boks have historically
been technically superior, the South Americans have always proved highly-motivated
and competitive. When the Pumas improve their visual awareness and all-round
skill-base, I believe they will prove even harder opponents to beat.
asked: Please offer your prediction ahead of South Africa’s clash with
Argentina this Saturday, and in which facets of play you believe the game will
ultimately be won or lost.
du Plessis: First and foremost, I believe the
abysmal weather conditions in the first Test were a true leveller. While
Argentina were more than competitive at set-piece, it will be interesting to
see if they’re able to live with the Springboks’ power and pace in dry
conditions. Moreover, I’m not convinced the Pumas have the ability to create
many too line-breaks. As such, I see the visitors finishing on the winning side
of the scoreboard. While an away win will prove most pleasing, I feel that leaving
with a four-try bonus point will be crucial in terms of the Boks’ ultimate log
Joe van Niekerk