It’s time for the Boks to evolve

2012-09-01 00:00

WATCHING the Tests between the All Blacks and Australia and the Springboks against Argentina last Saturday proved a few things for me.

The two that stand out are this thing called “rugby evolution” and the fact that the Boks are still walking on all fours and checking each other for ticks.

Argentina today are the Springboks of old — using a big scrum, natural strength, brute force, passion, a never-say-die attitude and not much finesse. It got the Boks to where they are today, and will win or draw the Pumas a game or two, but cannot last forever.

Yet Heyneke Meyer chose to react to that singular strength, select accordingly, and then take the Pumas on at that strength! Sure, the Boks are missing a few man mountains, and had they been available, or had the 22 Boks that ran out in Mendoza played just a little better, they would probably have won the game.

But surely the time has come for the Boks to evolve?

When I raised the issue with a number of top SA coaches, including all the recent Bok head honchos, every single one of them said that we do not have the skill or conditioning to play an expansive, offload-in-the-tackle style of rugby that the All Blacks have adopted.

So how do we change that?

First, we need to want to. It seems obvious, but if the style of SA rugby remains one kick- and-chase, with locks taking first passes from the scrumhalf, then things will never change.

But let’s assume we do want to play a more entertaining and attacking brand of rugby, and the SA Rugby Union work on marketing the new ethos to all the stakeholders.

Then we get a man like Rassie Erasmus to do the job he should be doing for Saru in any case. Seemingly out of Meyer’s inner circle these days, Erasmus and a team of similarly forward-thinking men should be implementing a plan that would produce both skilled and conditioned players for the Bok coach to mould into a unit.

Apart from my school coach — the legendary Basil Bey — Allan Zondagh is probably the only coach who ever had a team I was playing in doing drills aimed at building the skills needed to play a continuity-based game. Simple things, like getting your arms above the tackle, pop passes in the tackle and from the ground after the tackle, and — almost inconceivably — passing to your right!

You watch the most senior sides in SA trying to pass to their right — it’s desperate!

So the blame cannot be placed solely at Meyer or any of his Bok predecessor’s feet, as the top man should not be expected to coach basic skills and condition players.

Saru’s long-term plan has to be to change the mindset of the players and coaches to a more attacking one, implement it at provincial and franchise level, and thus present the national coach with the best possible pool of players to mould into a team that plays a game that can challenge every side in the world.

Erasmus was purpose-built for this role.

So we can’t blame Meyer for the general lack of skills, but, my word, it was still darn silly to take on the Pumas up front with an injured lock, a seriously average No. 7, and an eighthman playing out of position! And while it is exciting to see all of Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Juan de Jongh and Johan Goosen in the squad, it is the game plan that needs tweaking before any new personnel will be able to make a difference.

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