Boks may switch plans- again

2008-11-13 00:00

THE Springboks this season have made an alarming habit of mixing styles of play from one week to the next, and the prospect of it happening again is becoming a possibility as the kick-off to tomorrow’s match against Scotland nears.

Earlier in the week, coach Peter de Villiers appeared to give an emphatic thumbs up to the direct, structured approach driven by the players in the first match last week in Cardiff. He spoke about the need to build an innings, and some critics have interpreted this as a sign that he is finally understanding the need for a structure.

It is no secret though that De Villiers allows the assistant coaches to take the lead on matters concerning strategy, and yesterday it started to look like backline coach Dick Muir was vindicating those who hold the view that he is the management member most in favour of off-the-cuff rugby.

“If the conditions are good we will look to move the ball around a bit,” said Muir, before adding later that he felt that the backs could have benefitted more in the 20-15 win over Wales in Cardiff from the extra attacking options brought by Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf.

“I thought Ruan made a great start in the flyhalf position. His tactical kicking was outstanding.

But the backline as a whole can benefit more from having Ruan at flyhalf than it did last Saturday. He brings great attacking options through being a good passer of the ball. We didn’t play well last week, we kicked away too much ball and gave away too many penalties.”

It seemed obvious though from the vantage point of the press box that the ball that was “kicked away” was by design. The Boks did not run a single ball from inside their own half during the match, and their policy of bombing the Welsh with high balls earlier in the game realised the first try, which was engineered by a perfect JP Pietersen steal off a Fourie du Preez kick.

So, do Muir’s comments indicate a return to the off-the-cuff rugby which let the Boks down during the Tri-Nations season? Perhaps not, for maybe it is just a case of the Boks wanting to be a bit more expansive than they were last time, something that is not hard to imagine.

The perfectly executed Bok game-plan would see them laying a platform with a conservative approach and by carrying the ball in a direct manner at their opponents before opening up later on.

In a nutshell, the strategy that used to be known as ‘subdue and penetrate’.

In this instance, it is also true that the Boks should have a good chance of beating Scotland even if five of their players play with their hands secured behind their backs, and even a loose style will probably get the Boks home.

However, when the team was announced as unchanged for this game, it was an indication that tomorrow is to be a dress-rehearsal for next week’s clash with England at Twickenham.

With this in mind, it would not make sense to introduce habits that would entail introducing an element of risk ahead of the most important game of the tour.

So hopefully, from a Springbok viewpoint, Muir is talking about a blend, rather than a return to the loose game of earlier in the year, when the lessons of matches where structure ruled the day kept being forgotten as what can only be described as madness and chaos was introduced for the following matches.

Certainly “blend” seemed to be the operative word used by senior player Jean de Villiers when he was engaged in conversation after the press conference.

De Villiers said he agreed with the view that under the ELVs it is invariably the team that does the least playing that wins, as was the case last weekend in Cardiff.

“It may be unfortunate that it is the case, but I remember seeing a stat during the Tri-Nations season that showed that the teams that kick the ball the most are the ones that are successful under the ELVs,” said De Villiers.

“I don’t know if the northern hemisphere teams have figured this out yet, and I hope … they don’t figure it out while we are still on this tour.

“We took a while to cotton on, but then it dawned on us, and I am sure it will be the same with the northern teams.”

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