Boks must build continuity

Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
Alan Solomons (Getty Images)

Here in the UK everyone has been positive about the Springboks’ performance against England. The prevailing sentiment was that they were always in control and there was never a question of them not winning the Test match.

In my view, Heyneke Meyer’s men showed experience and composure in taking their opportunities when on offer.

The Boks enjoyed the lion’s share of territory and possession against Ireland and against England the stats were reversed.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you do in the opposition territory and the quality of possession that you have and manner in which you utilise it.

In last week’s column, I called for Pat Lambie to take the lead and I certainly think he has taken a very positive step in the right direction. The flyhalf’s performance against England was very promising and it proves that he’s a composed individual with a fine temperament.

His halfback partner Cobus Reinach – on his run-on debut for South Africa – also enhanced his credentials against Stuart Lancaster’s charges. He showed a cool head and passed a big test with flying colours. While the 24-year-old boasts all the physical attributes, what most excites me is that he has the ability to develop his game management, which will be critical going forward. He possesses all the natural skills to grow into a world-class scrumhalf.

While the Springboks were in the driving seat for most of the match, they suffered when Victor Matfield was sent off the field and, in his absence, found it naturally difficult to defend the maul. With a man down in the forwards, two tries were conceded from the driving maul.

From a tactical perspective it was interesting to note that when England drove the maul for the two tries, they sent in both Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt. Said tactic is becoming more and more prevalent within the northern hemisphere.

In terms of the basics, the chief concern of the side that is attacking at the maul is getting properly set. If they are properly set and patient, their chances of scoring are very good.

Meanwhile, the side defending the maul has to kill it off at source – either by sacking the player that has won the ball in the lineout or alternatively smashing it right at the beginning. If you don’t do that and allow it to set, you are in for a world of pain.

However, different refereeing interpretations of the maul exist. For instance, when Ireland stood off, some referees ignore that and let you make the connection and others don’t.

Ultimately, I believe the maul remains an integral part of the game and must remain so.

The Springboks face Italy in Padova on Saturday and, to be brutally honest, the hosts are a poor side. Since the powers that be saw it in their wisdom to relieve Nick Mallett of his duties post Rugby World Cup 2011, the Azzurri have gone backwards.

I think Nick did a magnificent job with Italy. He built them up, made them really competitive, and the side played some fantastic rugby and memorably beat France under his mentorship.

Nick built the base correctly by first making sure that they were well-conditioned and defensively solid. When he was replaced, he was just in the process of evolving their attack.

Frenchman Jacques Brunel took the helm and immediately placed an emphasis on attack. Brunel has tried to push ahead offensively and, as a result, I believe Italy have lost their way and the balance between attack and defence.

When Italy face off against South Africa you would usually expect them to play damage limitation rugby, but under Brunel they may come out and decide to give the ball air. But if they do just that and the weather is favourable, those tactics will play into the Boks’ hands.

While this game serves an opportunity to rest some players, I’m pleased that Heyneke has retained the 9-10-12-13 axis, because the Boks need to build continuity.

If the Springboks’ set-piece is solid and they generate quick front-foot ball, then they can do a lot of damage against a vulnerable Italian side.

This Test match represents a great opportunity for the Boks to further grow their game.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. Having served as Kings’ director of rugby, he is now head coach of Edinburgh.

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