The mistakes that I have seen being made by many Springbok coaches before Heyneke Meyer’s appointment are now once again being made by the Springbok coach.
After a disappointing loss to Ireland HM assured the press that all the changes he was making was not a knee jerk reaction but just a case of rotating players in his squad. Why then has Handre Pollard and Francois Hougaard not started since the Ireland test?
Well it’s not because the Sharks half back pairing of Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach, have done anything spectacular. To be honest I was not happy when the Sharks pairing replaced the Bulls pairing of Handre Pollard and Francois Hougaard. Mainly because of their inability to get what looked like an excellent backline on paper for the Sharks to be an attacking force during the Super 15.
South African fans react badly to any loss. This puts enormous pressure on the coach. The coach is the centre and everyone shoots for bullseye. Press slates him, the public might hate him and the rugby administration reminds him of how much money they are paying him. No one comes to his rescue.
South Africa beat New Zealand in Johannesburg in the 2014 Rugby championship playing a brand of rugby that was more attacking and played with width. South Africa tried to play this brand of rugby against Ireland in Dublin. Ireland won this test match by quite a margin.
The verdict from the Press in South Africa was it’s all well and good playing running rugby on the dry Highveld but in the Northern hemisphere you need to play a different brand a more conservative brand. What the South African Press were saying is go back to playing that cagey kicking game that South Africa has been playing for so long.
What are you trying to do when you run and attack a team? Simple answer is that you are trying to beat your opponents.
What are you trying to do when you play the cagey kicking territory game? Answer is you trying to not lose.
The truth is certain tactics work for certain conditions and for certain teams. You have to play the situation, which is what Heyneke Meyer will argue he is doing by reverting to the territory game. He says this style is suitable for Northern hemisphere conditions.This is not true. By saying this it implies that conditions in the Northern hemisphere are constant.
Gavin Rich of Supersport pointed to the All Black game against England as a perfect example of playing the conditions. In the second half the All Blacks passing became a lot shorter there was very little width to their game. The All Blacks ground out a win.
Why did they suddenly start playing like this? Because it was raining so hard.When playing in such wet conditions mistakes happen which your opposition can exploit . Keeping it close reduces the likelihood of a mistake.
Gavin Rich said that South Africa should have played the conditions better. What I fear when South Africans speak like that is it results in the Boks playing a very frustrating to watch type of game where they don’t have possession of the ball much, their tackle count goes through the roof, their attack consists of box kicks,driving mauls, intercept tries or individual moments of brilliance. The team doesn’t create and combine to score tries therefore never gain any momentum. A premium is put on scoring points rather than scoring tries.
The Dublin test was not played under the same conditions as the England v All Blacks test. In Dublin there may have been moisture due to earlier rain but it was not pouring down like it was in London.
The problem to me is it had less to do with conditions and more to do with the Springbok mindset. Before the tour started the Springbok camp was talking about the test against England being the big one. There would have been an automatic subconscious understanding that the effort required against Ireland would not be as much as the effort required against England.Obviously this was not the case.
The mistakes I talk about at the top of the article are mistakes such as , not taking each game as it comes, not assessing your opposition fairly or accurately, showing no confidence in young key players,not believing in your system , changing tack at the first sign of trouble, revert to a style that may bring short term success but over the last 20 years has had no long term success.
In a sense all the Test matches leading up to the world cup must be seen as a campaign. The Super 15 is a campaign. It is accepted that you are unlikely to win every game in the campaign but you concentrate on improving the team performance through the campaign , so by the business end of the campaign you are playing your best rugby and all selection issues have been ironed out. It requires forward planning , where the coach determines this is the way we want to play and sets out to play that way. The coach and players believe in that system and may make adjustments through the campaign. The worst thing you could do to upset everything is half way through the campaign say “No,no,no we need to do it another way because the way we set out to do it is wrong”
The pressure and fear of losing overrides every Springbok coaches initial good intentions and when that happens the coach doesn’t realize this but the control and power he had before is now diminished.
By changing the pivotal playmaker personnel , the message is, we are heading in a different direction now.
Running rugby occurs more often than it doesn’t in the Northern hemisphere. It is quite possible to play with width. The Northern Hemisphere’s conditions change frequently and could change a few times within one game. As a team you have to be quick to assess and understand the changing conditions and adapt appropriately.
By deciding you are going with the kicking game you have decided on only one way and you have made a pre-judgement.
Ultimately do I feel Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie should be the players lining up against Wales on Saturday? NO.
Do I feel that this is the long term direction the Springboks should be heading in ? No
Do I think the Springboks can win on Saturday? Yes
Wales had a good test against the All Blacks. Wales will be kicking themselves for letting it slip against the Boks earlier in the year. Wales will be fired up in front of their home fans. Many of South Africa’s players have returned to their European or Japanese clubs as this Test falls outside the international window.
Nonetheless South Africa has a strong core group. Lwazi Mvovo is probably the only player that Springbok fans have not seen a lot of this season. Mvovo is a quality player , it is just that Bryan Habana has been hogging that position on the wing.
Will Wales take a big step up and claim a major Southern hemisphere scalp or will South Africa go home with a 75% record from their end of year tour?