Game plan: kick, chase, tackle

2011-09-10 00:00

THERE are absolutely no prizes for forecasting how the Springboks hope to slay the Welsh Dragon in their Rugby World Cup opener in Wellington tomorrow.

Coach Peter de Villiers, almost from day one of his tenure, has placed his faith in the players and the captain, who took the Springboks to glory in Paris in 2007.

And with senior squad members whispering in his ear, he has rigidly stuck to a conservative game plan, one which suits the current crop of players both temperamentally and physically.

De Villiers has loaded the team with tactical kickers, with astute scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and the two Steyns, flyhalf Morné and fullback Frans, able to boot the ball vast distances.

With the Springboks playing all their world cup matches at night, and in a damp part of the world, the approach will suit the conditions.

The threat posed by the Springbok kickers has resulted in Welsh coach Warren Gatland selecting the talented and experienced James Hook at fullback rather than flyhalf where he would have been more involved and posed more of a threat. Rhys Priestland, who has only four Test caps, takes over from the injured flyhalf Stephen Jones as a result.

Gatland has baited the Springboks by claiming that they “don’t play any rugby” which, of course, is rubbish.

World cup rugby, as former Bok coach Ian McIntosh is fond of pointing out, is Test cricket, serious stuff without the fancy cosmetic frills of the easily forgettable Twenty20 game.

It is about pressure, points and victory and, ultimately, that is all that matters.

This is not to say that the Springboks will not run with the ball, but they will only spread their wings when they have field position and momentum.

This approach, of course, will only be successful if they  gain a measure of forward control and their kicking is accurate. They expect an onslaught from the Welsh scrum and they have loaded their squad with two front-rows.

The Welsh forwards, incidentally, will also be delighted th at they will not have to face the combative Bismarck du Plessis and Bakkies Botha in what will be a fierce opening quarter.

But the Springbok game will revolve around pinpoint kicking, an organised chase and first-time tackling. They will have to be on the button because the Welsh will be prepared to counter–attack through the back three of Hook — the young and old on the wings (George North and Shane Williams) and 2009 British Lions centre Jamie Roberts.

Another constant threat will be the irritatingly vocal but talented scrumhalf, Mike Phillips.

Springbok power and structure should triumph, but there remain areas of concern.

Are these Springboks, four years down the track, still hungry and desperate enough? Are they physically hard and sharp enough to sustain the effort over seven testing weeks? Can an effective game plan of years past continue working today? And are individuals who have seen little rugby in months, players like Schalk Burger, Frans Steyn and Fourie du Preez, immediately able to slip back into the groove and play at the highest level?

A couple of these questions will be answered tomorrow, but we will have to wait seven weeks to see whether these Springboks, some already creaking with injury, have the stamina and fitness to go the full distance.

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