Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok assistant coach GARY GOLD talks about South Africa’s Test series against France, Warren Whiteley’s appointment as skipper and SA’s Rugby World Cup bid.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the Springbok squad named for the French series?
Gary Gold: By and large, the Springbok squad has been well selected and it has a balanced look to it. However, there is no doubt that the forward pack is more experienced than the back division. The likes of Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule and Courtnall Skosan have been playing outstanding rugby this season, but none of them are hugely experienced. You are going away from a back three of Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, who boast a collective 235 Tests, to three players who have yet to debut for South Africa. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s like going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the pendulum has swung quite far in the opposite direction. The selection of Dillyn Leyds was a surprise to me. He is a prodigious talent, but I’m not sure whether he is an international rugby player as yet. In the forward pack, I was surprised by the exclusion of Philip van der Walt. The 27-year-old has been one of the absolutely outstanding players in Super Rugby not only this season, but last year as well. I just don’t understand how Van der Walt can’t get a look-in for national selection. He is hugely abrasive and offers a low error-rate. He is a fantastic rugby player right on our doorstep. I am however extremely chuffed that Jean-Luc du Preez has been named in the match-day 23. He is only 21, but looks so comfortable in high pressure situations. I predict that Jean-Luc and his twin brother Daniel will play a big role within South African rugby for years to come.
Sport24 asked: Warren Whiteley will assume the national captaincy. Is it a sage decision?
Gary Gold: It’s absolutely spot-on the correct decision. Whiteley is very much in the Gary Teichmann and Andre Vos captaincy mould. I know some people question whether Whiteley is good enough to be in the starting team but, having played for and captained one of the best Super Rugby teams over the last two seasons, he certainly hasn’t looked out of place against any of the New Zealand sides, which is the ultimate litmus test. Whiteley is a very smart player and I don’t think there is a problem about him earning his place in the starting XV. It’s a very sensible decision from Allister Coetzee. Whiteley is a cosmopolitan captain and can relate to different players from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, a modern day captain really has to be the person that bridges the divide between the coach and the players, and Whiteley will complement Coetzee and relay his message on the field.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of France’s squad and how do you rate their chances?
Gary Gold: France has a youthful look to its squad interspersed with a few really experienced campaigners. Yoann Maestri is a seasoned player and, in Louis Picamoles, they boast arguably the best eighthman in world rugby. He was comfortably the best No 8 in the Aviva Premiership last season and starred for Northampton Saints. Guy Noves has some big-name players in his squad, but the overriding issue, for me, is the sheer inconsistency surrounding the French national team. They are always the most difficult team in world rugby to talk about because you genuinely don’t know which team is going to pitch up on match-day. They possess wonderful rugby players, but are such a difficult team to comment on owing to their inconsistencies. Historically, the French haven’t tour particularly well at this time of the year and, coupled with the fact that they have had the longest season in world rugby, it may prove a tough assignment for them. France may win a Test, but I can’t see them winning the series. Not against a team like South Africa, who are ranked seventh in the world and with their backs to the wall. The Springboks really need to restore pride, and I foresee them proving pretty strong at home. They are trying to claw their way back into the top status of world rugby and beating a side one notch above them would see them climb the rankings ladder.
Sport24 asked: What game strategy should the Springboks employ against France?
Gary Gold: I anticipate the Springboks being well-organised and certainly think that they will be smart in terms of game plan. Having now had a decent amount of preparation time, expect the Springboks to go back to their traditional game and use the drive as much more of a weapon. Not only to launch their plays, but also to keep the opposition guessing. Coetzee’s charges need to get themselves into the right areas of the field - the opposition half - and look to keep ball in hand and ask serious questions of the French defence. I don’t believe the visitors’ defence will prove their strong point. If the Springboks hold onto the ball for a few phases, utilise the width of the field effectively by running well into space and dominate the gain line, France is a team South Africa can breach. However, if the hosts are boring and play one-off runners coming around the corner, which I don’t believe they will, the French won’t have a problem defending against them. South Africa have to be smart in terms of their decision-making - where they choose to play and where they opt to conserve energy. Meanwhile, if the French are going to play an off-loading game you want to take their time and space away as much as possible. What you don’t want to do is sit back on your heels and allow them to get the ball to the line, play their dummy runners in-behind and have options to offload. The Springboks have to get the balance right by coming up off the line to put Les Tricolores under enough pressure, but also realise that in contact situations France will be looking for off-loads. France are renowned for being a fearsome attacking force, but only managed to score eight tries in five Six Nations matches. It underlines that execution was an issue for them during the most recent tournament. However, defences are improving and are harder to penetrate, which is a global trend.
Sport24 asked: How will Coetzee find an effective balance between attack and defence?
Gary Gold: I don’t believe Brendan Venter and Franco Smith’s game philosophies are a million miles apart. While Brendan is the defence and exits coach, he would definitely want to attack in the right areas of the field. As such, I don’t think there are going to be too many debates around that. For me, there are two real questions that are going to be answered. The one area where Brendan will have a big say is around decision-making – when to play and how to manage the game. And when the Springboks decide to give the ball air, Franco as the attack coach steps in and assists in terms of the shape and execution of the attack. I believe the two former Free State team-mates can work really well together and complement each other. Thankfully, the way the game has gone defence alone is not going to win you games. You need to possess an attacking prowess and we have some great players in South Africa. The teams Brendan has coached over the last few years definitely have a good eye for balance and he will add a huge amount to the Springbok performances. In the earlier days when he was starting off his teams were somewhat conservative by his own admission, but after building a strong base they developed an effective ball-in-hand game evidenced by Saracens, who scored 66 tries in the Aviva Premiership last season - the third-most tries in the competition.
Sport24 asked: How do you see the three-match series panning out this month?
Gary Gold: It’s so difficult with the French, because if they get their flair and offloading game right you could be chasing your tale. Similarly, if their decision-making is poor and they force their hand in the wrong areas of the field, the Springboks can profit and score some turnover tries. It could lead to a very good afternoon, which is what happened in 2010 when we beat France 42-17 in Cape Town. As previously mentioned, the French play the longest season in Europe and that has such a knock-on effect for their June preparations. It will have been completely disruptive with six players having been involved in the Top 14 final last Sunday. While I’m sure they will be massively passionate to play for France, they won’t have had the preparation time and wouldn’t have been able to forge team unity like South Africa. I’m predicting the Boks will win the first Test and series handsomely.
Sport24 asked: Why are you backing South Africa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid?
Gary Gold: I believe the time is right for South Africa to host the Rugby World Cup having last had the honour in 1995. The fact that South Africa is one of only three countries to have hosted the cricket, soccer and rugby World Cups speaks volumes for our ability to stage global sporting events. You want to have a really appealing event where it works in terms of time zones, safety, facilities and infrastructure, and South Africa ticks all the boxes. From an income-generating point of view, South Africa’s economy stands to profit to the tune of R27bn. In terms of the other contenders, France has hosted a successful World Cup before, but it was only 10 years ago. Meanwhile, Ireland hasn’t hosted the showpiece per se, but in 1999 matches were held in Belfast, Dublin and Limerick.
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