Cape Town – Nine, ten and twelve … as berths at the very heart of a rugby team’s structure and integrity, they are also essential ones in decision-making terms.
Yet that ability to make correct moves at most suitable times, from those areas of the park, is where the Springboks have been falling short too often in five unconvincing Test matches so far this season.
In short, the lack of international experience and associated ability to grab a match by the scruff of the neck in those jerseys is proving too noticeable and increasingly problematic.
Everything just looks too frantic by the Boks at any one time from scrumhalf, flyhalf and inside centre … and sometimes even all together, creating a damaging domino of indecisiveness that shudders through the entire, pretty new-look team.
Individually, all of Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and Damian de Allende are abundantly talented rugby players – and have demonstrated as much often enough at both franchise and Test level, albeit to varying degrees thus far on the latter tier.
But it is as a string-pulling collective that they are conspicuously failing to cut the mustard at present, bringing more of a chaotic energy, if you like, than they do all-important control when situations demand the latter.
What the Boks require is for at least one of them to be more “strategic” and calming.
Ever-popular SuperSport pundit and former Bok coach Nick Mallett made the point recently that De Allende, from his No 12 spot, needed to provide more authority, given that both of the halfbacks pairing, Lions duo De Klerk and Jantjies, are both attacking players by nature and “don’t really take charge”.
At least in Test caps terms, De Allende (with 18) is the most seasoned of the trio in their influential positions, so it makes sense from that point of view for him to up his levels of assertiveness and communication.
He is nominally, after all, a Super Rugby captain, although he had a notably short-lived tenure in the role – one match – against the Reds earlier this season when the Stormers had injury issues among their leadership and he didn’t exactly revel at the time in the responsibility.
Assuming that they stay together in the side – and there are currently no hard and fast guarantees in any of their cases that they will – the trio ought to “gel” more agreeably as internationals go by, although the alliance may be disturbed anyway against Australia (Brisbane) in just over a week’s time if Jantjies isn’t passed fit for it.
But it will be the earnest wish of many Bok supporters that they quickly shrug off the naivety that has punctuated their recent appearances as a unit.
Better clarity on the overall game-plan (the responsibility primarily of coach Allister Coetzee, of course) would naturally aid that quest.
As lineout legend and television pundit Victor Matfield pointed out in the wake of the deflating reverse to Argentina in Salta – where all three players in question produced sub-standard games – people should not fall into the trap of obsessing solely with the idea that the Boks are trapped in a rut somewhere between “traditional methods” and the “brave Lions style” that lit up much of Super Rugby 2016.
Sometimes, he reminded, it is more simply about making fitting, smart moves at right times in Tests, and this is where the Bok inside backs have seemingly got things wrong too much in the current Test campaign.
It is probably to the erratic Jantjies’ benefit, especially, that Coetzee cannot call upon either of Handre Pollard or Pat Lambie at present, because placing one of these more orthodox game-dictators between De Klerk and De Allende might be just the balancing tonic for better backline synergy and general direction to the team as a whole.
The gifted but sometimes emotionally out-of-sorts Jantjies needs to make maximum use, as quickly as possible, of opportunities in the interim to prove that he really can be a commanding “supervisor” rather than impulsive, overly solo figure at No 10.
These are no longer the days of cool-headed, gnarly game-reading personalities like the great scrumhalf Fourie du Preez or Jean de Villiers, in the inside centre channel, bossing Test matches with pure intelligence and peripheral awareness as key facilitators of that virtue.
The current “kids” need to grow up in a hurry … even if maturity regrettably doesn’t come in any quick-fix syringe.
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