White sticks with forward strength

The traditional power of the South African forwards will once again be the focal point of this year’s Vodacom Tri-Nations.

The Springboks have often relied on their pack to get them on the front foot, and for all his tactical innovation, coach Jake White seems reluctant to focus on the backs as a potential strong point.

Assistant coach Allister Coetzee told Jacques van der Westhuyzen of The Star that this is a concern, but it would take time to move away from the forward-oriented game.

“There is always this debate surrounding backs playing according to pure structure versus the off-the-cuff stuff, but the secret is finding the balance between the two,” said Coetzee.

“The important thing to remember is that the backs have to play in a specific structure, a pre-determined plan, because that gives them security. But having said that, we do have to focus more on the off-the-cuff play, where players sum up the situation and play as they see it.

“Doing this, though, requires communication and vision among the backs, but unfortunately we’ve had a few injuries recently which has meant we’ve been playing with a new midfield and different wings.”

South Africa were without centres Jean de Villiers and Jacques Fourie for the France Test, and Breyton Paulse also watched this game from the sidelines. Fourie and Paulse will travel to Australasia, but Bryan Habana, who was injured late in the first half against France, will remain behind with De Villiers.

The opportunity is there for youngsters like Akona Ndungane and JP Pietersen, who may find themselves in the starting line-up against Australia on July 15. The only question is whether their strengths, namely running from deep, will be utilised.

Although the Boks will miss Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger, they have an established forward unit with a lot of experience. White knows this better than anybody, and given his fondness for experience in the Test arena, the forwards will be the primary focus on attack.

“We’re going to play the way that’s worked for us before and we’ll simply tweak the other areas,” said Coetzee.

The backline may seem to be low on White’s list of priorities. However, two training sessions held on Wednesday were closed to the media, which could mean that the Springbok coach has a few surprises for the Aussies in Brisbane.