iafrica.com columnist BJ Botha believes there are positives to take from the loss to the Wallabies and warns against wholesale changes in the Springbok team.
The pressure is growing this week after the Springboks lost to the Wallabies and much of that will be on coach Heyneke Meyer's shoulders...
I think at the moment there is a plan in progress that has been set up by Heyneke. He has a handful of games under his belt and people are already writing up his winning percentages and questioning him, which I think is a little bit unfair at the moment.
Obviously he is in a hugely demanding position and we want to be in the number one position in the world again, but I do think he has taken over a Springbok side that has changed dramatically since Peter de Villiers’ and Jake White’s era, with a team that always had a core group of experienced players together.
This current side has vastly changed and it will take time to glue them together, particularly after all the experience they have lost, which in Test rugby is vital, will also take time. You saw a great example of that against Australia, where we played well enough to beat them over 60 minutes, but couldn’t hold on or close the game out.
I don’t think it’s a worry, I do think they have a plan in place, and ultimately have a goal of being the number one side in the world, but it’s tough to question it at the moment.
When our gameplan does work we can beat any side in the world. The kicking game has become such a massive part of rugby – it is a weapon both on attack and defence – and as I have said in the past, if your kicks are not spot-on it can leave your defences open and teams like Australia and New Zealand will punish you for it.
When it is accurate and we can get the ball behind the team, get our big forwards running on to it, really getting physical, I don’t think there is any side that can stand with us. You really have to be able to look at it from both sides. If it doesn’t work, questions do need to asked of the accuracy, questions need to be asked about our ability to retrieve the ball in the air… Those little things can turn a big game around.
We have seen glimpses of it, that it can destroy a side, but I think at the moment it is silly errors where we are getting punished. We build an innings and then we give away stupid penalties or yellow cards… there are many positives, but one of the major ones would be the fact that a lot of the guys came through this weekend – Johan Goosen, Pat Lambie – youngsters that will carry us forward. These guys now need to make the step up every time they put on the jersey and combine with the more experienced guys.
How long do combinations stay together?
So is it time to look at the players? You have to ask: how long do you keep combinations together before changing them? The 9-10 combination is such an important one and it looks like the right decision has been to move Ruan Pienaar in at nine, with the service now much quicker and more fluid. It takes pressure off Morne, and while we might not have reaped the rewards of that yet, I think you need to give combinations a chance to develop… have we given them long enough? That’s up to the coaches at the end of the day and how long they see it going and how far they will let it.
You have to give it some time to develop though. You can’t just chuck out a 10 and replace a nine every Test. So should Pienaar and Steyn be allowed to develop further or it is time to bring in Goosen? How long do you leave any of your combinations before making changes? Because when you do decide to make changes you will need to give that some time to develop as well. Tests are not there to experiment with players. You need to choose your best 15 and then stick with them – if you make wholesale changes all the time, you will invariably be punished.
Personally I do not think at this stage it is time to make wholesale changes. I believe we have the right players, but this has to be built up now and implemented out on the field accurately and ruthlessly.
We want to win games, but when you compare the players we have now, to the players we used to have, it is a process to build a team. It is difficult, because results mean everything at this stage, so it is a tough one to tap into.
I think we do have the capability to change our gameplan if need be– we have some of the best players in the world. I still believe though that there can only be subtle changes at this stage. I don’t think you can massively change your gameplan at this point of the competition. What you should be looking at now is possibly completing the Rugby Championship in the best possible way and then move forward from there.
Back your guns now. I don’t think the coaches are expecting different results simply by repeating the same thing over and over again, but I really believe it is more an accuracy issue at the moment. Whether or not this is the best gameplan for us, that is in the coach’s hands and it is at his discretion whether or not it changes.
I am sure the coaches have a long-term plan and a short-term plan at the moment. The short-term plan was to build through the England series and have a strong enough side to win the Rugby Championship and I am sure they will not be happy with where they stand at the moment so we might start seeing some changes as they see necessary.
They may now look to risk a little bit more on the end of year tour now. The Rugby Championship is arguably the toughest competition in the world and you can’t really afford to experiment. If there are any personnel or gameplan changes, they may just come at the end of the year where you can take a few more risks and try a few more combinations.
BJ’s weekend predictions:
New Zealand v South Africa: It's going to be tough for us, but we have done it before in Dunedin although that was with one of our most capped sides of all time. We really don't have anything to lose as the All Blacks will be overwhelming favourites, but that just may be their downfall as you can never underestimate the animal that is the Springbok! Springboks 19-15
Australia v Argentina: Australia are struggling with injuries and after last week's bruising encounter I think they will find the Argies tougher than expected. If the South Americans play like they have the last two weeks it could be a very close encounter, Australia should just edge them with home advantage. Australia 27-21