Rugby Championship

Boks need a more ‘cut-throat” attitude

2018-09-25 13:21
Aphiwe Dyantyi (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - When the Springboks say they are not underestimating Australia in Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium it should come across as massive understatement for those who recall the last few matches between the sides. 

What has changed for the Boks since they lost by the narrowest of margins to the Wallabies in a game they should have won with something to spare in Brisbane a few weeks ago is that the South Africans have subsequently gotten over the line to beat the All Blacks, according to the supersport.com website

Against a team that has made a habit of winning even games where the odds are weighted against them, it brings more than just a psychological boost for the Boks to have reversed that trend, it also radically changes the outside perception of the team. 

Just as perhaps beforehand some of the doom merchants overdid the negativity following the losses to Argentina and Australia, for the Boks do often step up against their greatest foe, so there is a danger that the expectation will go too much in the opposite direction against what many will regard as lesser opposition. 

It is true the Boks don’t lose often to Australia on home soil - they haven’t since 2011 - but if the South Africans surrender the momentum picked up in Wellington by under-achieving in Port Elizabeth, it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened. 

Indeed, if you think back to the periods of dominance that the Boks have enjoyed in some of their recent games it is hard to fathom the recent result sequence going back to the start of 2016 - narrow wins for both nations on home soil in 2016, followed by two draws last year and then a close win for the Wallabies three weeks ago. 

Bok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk agrees that the two teams have established a tendency to bring out the worst in each other and says it is perplexing. 

“I think that is a good question (relating to us under-achieving against Australia). It’s not just last year, when there were two draws, but also the year before that, my first year (as a Bok), when we lost narrowly in Australia and then we won but weren’t good against them in Pretoria,” said De Klerk. 

“I think it comes down to us creating opportunities and not converting them into points. If you think back to the games, we have often had chances to put them away that we just haven’t taken. The last game we played against them was an example of that. We gave that one away with stupid mistakes. 

“It may partly be down to inexperience. It may be partly down to individuals losing focus and maybe not having the right plan in place. It is not just against them that we don’t convert opportunities. 

“Every week we go through the opportunities we have missed during a game, and there are a lot of them. The opportunities missed against Argentina were at an unheard of level (both in Durban and in the loss in Mendoza) and we missed a lot against Australia. 

“We just need to be more cut-throat. We need to improve our conversion rate and be more successful at converting opportunities when they come. If you have 10 opportunities, then you should convert seven. But at least we know that and it is something that we are working on.” 

Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick reckons the failure of both teams to put the other one away when the opportunity was there (if you look at the stats of the Loftus game in 2016 that was one that Wallabies should perhaps have won) comes down to them being at the same stage of development. 

“We are both rebuilding and we have seen players go overseas and then come back,” said Stick.

“They saw Kurtley Beale go away and then he came back and was reabsorbed back into their system and we have experienced the same with Faf and others. We are both working on building our leadership groups. They are talking about bringing back Adam Ashley-Cooper. All the leadership guys are coming back. We are both building back to where we belong.” 

One member of the leadership group who Stick feels is critical to the Boks is Willie le Roux, who has now been freed to play in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria after initially he was expected to be tied up by English club commitments in the last fortnight of the Championship. Le Roux was expected at the team hotel on Monday night and Stick was elated that he was returning. 

“Jeez, he adds massive value. I said before the All Black game that if Willie, Handre (Pollard) and Faf could make the right decisions and create opportunities, then Aphiwe Dyantyi would be man of the match by feeding off that, and that is what happened,” said the assistant coach. 

“Once you get Willie and company playing their best then you significantly improve your chances of producing the best team performance.”

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