The Springboks are being dragged back into the Stone Age by a poor selection policy and an outdated gameplan, writes iafrica.com’s Rob Peters.
It was easily one of the worst performances by a Springbok team in over a decade as the Boks fell apart in the face of a fired-up, but limited Pumas side in Mendoza. Don’t be so quick to have a go at the players though, because they are being hamstrung by management.
Heyneke Meyer’s selections to date have been debatable, but it would not matter who was selected for Saturday’s debacle, because while a number of players were woefully out of form – and others simply do not belong – it is the outdated gameplan that is costing this team the most.
Captain Jean de Villiers spoke of missed opportunities, but it is impossible to miss out on something that was never there. To create opportunities you need the ball, but the Boks seem happy to kick it away aimlessly in the hope that when it lands, something will simply happen for them.
Meyer looked at a loss as to why his team was so poor on Saturday. His post-match interview was worrying in two ways. Firstly, he seemed unable to explain the reasons for his side’s meltdown, and secondly he still appears unwilling to admit that playing three big, ball-carrying bruisers in his loose trio is costing the team heavily at the breakdown.
Yes, Steve Walsh let the Pumas slow the ball down illegally on more than one occasion, but the hard truth is that the Boks do not have the ability to win the ball on the deck. The loss of Bismarck du Plessis has only compounded the problem. Argentina hurt them at the breakdown – and the Wallabies and All Blacks will inflict further pain on the Boks unless the problem is addressed.
Meyer earlier this year said he believed the role of the ‘fetcher’ was diminishing. Jake White said much the same early in his tenure as Bok coach and was later made to pay for it. I fear the same is being done to Meyer. The Wallabies were humiliated by the All Blacks over the weekend and it is no coincidence that they were without their captain David Pocock – one of the best openside flanks the game has ever seen.
Heinrich Brussow was injured when the squad to tour Argentina was announced, but when he is ready, Meyer needs to give him a call.
Unfortunately, like a number of coaches before him, Meyer seems obsessed with size and bullying the opposition, rather than outthinking them. He bangs on about big ball-carriers, but seems averse to planning for if and when they fail to make an impact – much like it happened on Saturday in Mendoza.
"People have been asking me about plan B and C and all that romantic stuff but we need to go out there and enforce our gameplan, which we showed in bits and pieces against England," Meyer said last month.
Romantic stuff? Since when is having a back-up plan considered anything other than essential?
Even the All Blacks need to change things up at times and it’s fair to say they are far and away the best team in the world at the moment.
The Boks came up short against England in their final Test earlier this year and were lucky to come away with a draw then. Perhaps Meyer would have changed his views if his side had lost, but it is clear nothing was learnt from that match, nor did he take note of how the Boks were beaten at the breakdown time and again against the Pumas two weeks ago at Newlands.
Regardless of what I think of the merits of the players, the Boks were always going to be predictable this weekend. Crash-and-bash rugby always is. It’s not hard to predict what this side is going to do with the ball in hand, because they will either bash it up or hoof it away when that doesn’t work.
Meyer believes this gameplan plays to the Boks’ traditional strengths, but there is far more to our rugby than simply trying to bash the opposition into submission. Frans Steyn saved the side blushes with a charge-down try, but before that he barely saw the ball. Bryan Habana and Lwazi Mvovo saw even less out on the wings…
It is laughable that as Steyn and Zane Kirchner launched one bomb after another, Patrick Lambie sat on the bench unused, while players like Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Robert Ebersohn, Jaco Taute sat at home. Perhaps that is best, because they would be wasted in the Bok set-up.
Francois Hougaard lit up the Test stage last season by being allowed to play his game, but now he is under pressure to keep his place as he struggles to play a role not suited to his strengths. Ruan Pienaar is more suited to the gameplan, but that certainly does not make him the better player. But if the gameplan stays, it would be best to bench Hougaard and call him on as a impact player, because as it stands now, he is in danger of being destroyed.
South African rugby is so much more than the one-dimensional gameplan on display this weekend. There is talent spilling over at domestic level – players with size and skill. SA rugby has the talent to dominate world rugby, but they are being held back by conservative coaches, unable to move away from a plan that is no longer working…
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