Boks must fight fire with fire

Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
The Springboks simply weren’t at the races against Italy and produced an error-ridden performance.

It was very disappointing that the Bok attack - which is not good enough at present - was unable to prosper against a side I would be unsurprised to see finish at the foot of the 2015 Six Nations table.

I don’t wish to detract from the Italian effort in Padova, but the bottom line is that the Springboks’ lack of penetration on attack was not down to Italy’s defence. The Springboks shot themselves in the foot by making too many mistakes.

Much like the Test against Ireland, South Africa battled at the breakdown and struggled to generate quick, front-foot ruck ball. As such, they weren’t able to evolve their attack as I’d expected – in spite of the fact that they had retained the 9-10-12-13 axis and the weather conditions were favourable.

It therefore underlines the notion that if a side is not effective at the breakdown, it has a knock-on effect in terms of their attacking game. It’s imperative to dominate the collision, and if that happens then it becomes that much easier for the players cleaning out.

The ability to get quick, front-foot ball is part of the secret of both the All Blacks and Wallabies’ attacking success.

Ask any referee and they will attest to the fact that the tackle contest is one of the most difficult areas of the oval game to officiate, because the action transpires within a split-second.

As such, I believe World Rugby’s technical committee – of which Nick Mallett is a member – have to sit around a table and look at ways in which to simplify the laws pertaining to the breakdown.

Casting an eye to Saturday’s Test, Wales represent a tough proposition and it must be said that they played outstandingly against the All Blacks for 69 minutes. Their defence was brilliant against New Zealand – Shaun Edwards is an excellent defence coach – and their line speed afforded the All Blacks limited time on the ball and thus made it was very difficult for them to play.

While Wales are without their England-based players for the South African Test, the fact that they have their France-based players to call upon – unlike the Springboks – will offer them a real lift and advantage. In particular, the triumvirate of Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny are huge players for the home side and part and parcel of the danger Wales pose in the back division.

Warren Gatland has come in for some criticism in the press of late for his record against the top three southern hemisphere sides, but I’m of the view that it is unwarranted.

I believe that Gatland has done a great job as Welsh head coach and boasts an exceptional record in terms of the RBS Six Nations.

No matter who has been at the coaching helm, the Dragons have rarely beaten the top three southern hemisphere sides. And if you go back in history, the fact of the matter is that Wales had never previously beaten the Springboks until that one-off Test match in 1999 which they won 29-19.

While the current Welsh side need to get that monkey off their back, having last beaten the Boks 15 years ago, they see a real opportunity on Saturday against a starting XV that shows five changes.

The home side will be fired up and will come out all guns blazing in what will be something of a cauldron at the Millennium Stadium.

However, having flattered to deceive against Italy, the visitors will be equally determined to put everything into their final 80-minute performance of 2014.

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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