Cape Town – Nine, ten and twelve … as berths at the very
heart of a rugby team’s structure and integrity, they are also essential ones
in decision-making terms.
Yet that ability to make correct moves at most suitable times,
from those areas of the park, is where the Springboks have been falling short
too often in five unconvincing Test matches so far this season.
In short, the lack of international experience and
associated ability to grab a match by the scruff of the neck in those jerseys
is proving too noticeable and increasingly problematic.
Everything just looks too frantic by the Boks at any one
time from scrumhalf, flyhalf and inside centre … and sometimes even all
together, creating a damaging domino of indecisiveness that shudders through
the entire, pretty new-look team.
Individually, all of Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and Damian
de Allende are abundantly talented rugby players – and have demonstrated as
much often enough at both franchise and Test level, albeit to varying degrees
thus far on the latter tier.
But it is as a string-pulling collective that they are
conspicuously failing to cut the mustard at present, bringing more of a chaotic
energy, if you like, than they do all-important control when situations demand
What the Boks require is for at least one of them to be more
“strategic” and calming.
Ever-popular SuperSport pundit and former Bok coach Nick Mallett
made the point recently that De Allende, from his No 12 spot, needed to provide
more authority, given that both of the halfbacks pairing, Lions duo De Klerk
and Jantjies, are both attacking players by nature and “don’t really take charge”.
At least in Test caps terms, De Allende (with 18) is the
most seasoned of the trio in their influential positions, so it makes sense
from that point of view for him to up his levels of assertiveness and
He is nominally, after all, a Super Rugby captain, although
he had a notably short-lived tenure in the role – one match – against the Reds
earlier this season when the Stormers had injury issues among their leadership
and he didn’t exactly revel at the time in the responsibility.
Assuming that they stay together in the side – and there are
currently no hard and fast guarantees in any of their cases that they will –
the trio ought to “gel” more agreeably as internationals go by, although the
alliance may be disturbed anyway against Australia (Brisbane) in just over a
week’s time if Jantjies isn’t passed fit for it.
But it will be the earnest wish of many Bok supporters that
they quickly shrug off the naivety that has punctuated their recent appearances
as a unit.
Better clarity on the overall game-plan (the responsibility
primarily of coach Allister Coetzee, of course) would naturally aid that quest.
As lineout legend and television pundit Victor Matfield
pointed out in the wake of the deflating reverse to Argentina in Salta – where
all three players in question produced sub-standard games – people should not
fall into the trap of obsessing solely with the idea that the Boks are trapped
in a rut somewhere between “traditional methods” and the “brave Lions style”
that lit up much of Super Rugby 2016.
Sometimes, he reminded, it is more simply about making
fitting, smart moves at right times in Tests, and this is where the Bok inside
backs have seemingly got things wrong too much in the current Test campaign.
It is probably to the erratic Jantjies’ benefit, especially,
that Coetzee cannot call upon either of Handre Pollard or Pat Lambie at
present, because placing one of these more orthodox game-dictators between De
Klerk and De Allende might be just the balancing tonic for better backline
synergy and general direction to the team as a whole.
The gifted but sometimes emotionally out-of-sorts Jantjies
needs to make maximum use, as quickly as possible, of opportunities in the
interim to prove that he really can be a commanding “supervisor” rather than
impulsive, overly solo figure at No 10.
These are no longer the days of cool-headed, gnarly game-reading
personalities like the great scrumhalf Fourie du Preez or Jean de Villiers, in
the inside centre channel, bossing Test matches with pure intelligence and
peripheral awareness as key facilitators of that virtue.
The current “kids” need to grow up in a hurry … even if
maturity regrettably doesn’t come in any quick-fix syringe.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing