Striking right balance is key for the Boks

2012-08-30 00:00

THE Springboks were certainly off colour at the weekend and were quite fortunate to come away with a draw. Post-game, Heyneke Meyer said he didn’t want to make any excuses and in his own words, the performance was “unacceptable”.

There is no question it was a poor performance. The Boks went into the game with a particular strategy, but were stymied and unable to execute.

The Boks’ strategy is based on their ability to physically dominate their opponents and to have their big ball carriers generate momentum — evidenced by the fact that Jacques Potgieter was selected ahead of Keegan Daniel.

What happened on the weekend was that the Boks were unable to outmuscle the Pumas; the home side’s strong defence ensured the Boks were unable to generate momentum and consequently they struggled to play.

When their game plan doesn’t come off, they seem to struggle and don’t appear to have many alternatives. At the moment, the Boks are not at all creative on attack.

One just has to look at the All Blacks to offer a clue. South Africa have the players capable of playing that style. It boils down to having a high skill level, players who are technically proficient and are good decision makers.

I’ve been told that the All Blacks had a massive focus on their ball placement and the collisions, because they felt that let them down in the previous Test against Australia. They got that right and were able to generate very quick ball from breakdown situations.

The Boks’ breakdown wasn’t good and they therefore had a weak platform to play off. There are a number of factors that contribute, among them the carriage, placement and clean-out. It starts with the carriage. For example, if a player makes a dominant tackle it’s a lot easier for him to defend, because he has time to set the line and the opposition are on the back foot.

Similarly, if a team boasts a dominant carriage with good go-forward, it’s far easier to clean than it is for the opposition. Heinrich Brüssow is outstanding on the ground, but a lot of that is to do with opposition ball.

As a group we struggled. Yes, Morné Steyn didn’t have his best kicking game, but to single out an individual is unfair. I don’t think the blame can be laid at his door for what Meyer himself described as a very poor collective performance.

It’s to soon to judge Meyer — he has only had five Tests and has to be given a decent opportunity to settle. I think one can properly reflect at the end of the Rugby Championship, and it will be easier for pundits to pass judgment.

This tournament will serve as a better measure than the England series as he had now had a good stretch of time with the players.

The point to stress is that it is a question of attaining balance. While there are those who feel the Boks under Meyer are over-structured, which is a valid argument, I would rather take a positive line and say the Boks need to ensure that they maintain a good balance between attack and defence, and have alternate strategies in place. At the moment, we are clearly seeing an imbalance.

Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies are outstanding players and are certainly considerations going forward. Perhaps at a point there will also be an opportunity for a player like Juan de Jongh, who presents a different set of challenges to the opposition’s defence, than a more physical, defence-oriented centre.

With the Wallabies next in line, the Boks have to step up a gear. The Wallabies don’t have the finest pack in world rugby, and the Boks should be able to get on top of them upfront. That said, I thought they defended particularly well against the All Blacks. They held their hosts to a single try — in spite of the fact the All Blacks dominated the fixture.

The increased scrutiny is harsh on Robbie Deans as he has proved himself to be an excellent coach. It’s tough for Deans at the moment as he is playing against top sides, and from an all-round perspective, I’m not sure Australia really have the ammunition, particularly in terms of player depth.

The Boks have plenty going for them in the next Test, which will be played in Perth. They will be up for the game mentally and will be aware an away win would be crucial. That said, the Wallabies will be desperate for a win after back-to-back losses.

At the moment, because the All Blacks are a very well-balanced side and are extremely dangerous on attack, they are a cut above everybody else. While I wouldn’t say it’s the very best All Blacks side I have ever seen — the 1996 side led by Sean Fitzpatrick was brilliant — they are certainly a very good unit.

While it’s always difficult to compare different eras in terms of performances over the first two rounds, there is certainly daylight between them and the other sides.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is EP Kings’ director of rugby and is a consultant to the International Rugby Board.

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