Brisbane blues

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that despite a poor showing by the Wallabies in Christchurch, the Boks shouldn’t expect to win in Brisbane.

Australia, hammered in Christchurch, will still provide a massive challenge for Jake White’s Springboks. In fact, they will beat the Springboks.

The Boks without Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Bakkies Botha and Bryan Habana are severely weakened. Burger is the most difficult of the quartet to replace. Currently, he cannot be replaced.

The Wallabies defeat against the All Blacks should not create the illusion that the Boks will win in Brisbane. I don’t believe the Boks have got the game plan, strategy or the technical edge to deal with the Australians.

When everything bounced for the Boks, in Perth a year ago, and nothing bounced for Australia, the Boks won by just three points. It was their first win in Australia since 1998 when they won by a point.

Victories have been rare for the Boks in Australia and the smart money would be on the Boks not getting a win overseas, but then getting three wins at home. The latter advantage is undeniable and in the last two years away wins have been rare for any team.

The expectation of South Africa’s rugby public should be measured with realism. This Bok side is showing too many signs of vulnerability. They’ve looked devoid of attacking ideas all season and the forward power upon which the Boks base their game has waned, most significantly against the French.

The rush defence, into its third season, is also not the imposing threat of its first year. Teams have started to use steppers to beat the rush defence. Teams have started to use the inside ball to attack around the fringes and negate the rush defence. Teams finally are using the chip kick and grubber kick to show up a rushing defence.

The Boks, in their third year under Jake White and his fellow coaches, have introduced nothing new to their game. What was an exciting young side has grown old very quickly. The innovation of 2004 is laboured in 2006.

And that is why I believe they will battle to beat the odds in Brisbane.

Pierre Spies is a fantastic introduction to the squad, but I am not convinced Chiliboy Ralepelle is ready for test rugby. I also don’t believe Solly Tyibilika is a better openside option than Luke Watson, who on Saturday was the inspiration in Western Province’s victory against the Blue Bulls.

Watson is the form loose-forward in South Africa. He weighs 105 kilograms and is 1.85 metres tall. Tyibilika weighs 100 kilograms and is 1.88 metres tall.

White has always insisted you can’t play Watson because he is too light and too short. The argument is Watson does not give you a lineout option and he is not a receiver factor at kick-off.

If we take this theory as gospel, then how can Tyibilika be tall enough or heavy enough?
It is one of the many Bok selection contradictions of 2006.

When you assess what was in the Bok side of a year ago and who has replaced them, the team has not been strengthened. Jaco van der Westhuyzen, South Africa’s best option at flyhalf, does not have the pedigree of Stephen Larkham. Van der Westhuyzen this season has played more like an infantryman than a general. This three-match adventure will tell us whether he can ever make the transition from one of the team to the one who controls the team.

The Boks lack leadership in key areas. The halfbacks and midfield don’t have authority in their decision-making and the reliance on John Smit, Percy Montgomery and Victor Matfield is too great.

The next three matches will be an indicator of whether White and his trusted brigade of assistant coaches have the ability to add a dimension to the team they built in 2004.

Results alone won’t give us the answer. The success of the next month will be in the Boks’ attitude, their approach and their game plan.

White has hinted it will be conservative, which gives the greatest indication that there is nothing more to offer.

Now, more than at any time since White took charge, there needs to be a fearless and bold approach to the tournament.

The Boks need to break free the conservative shackles if they are to regain momentum in the build-up to the 2007 World Cup. We know the Boks can win at home, but with the World Cup not being played at home, the measurement is how they do on the road.

And since 2004, they’ve lost in Australia twice, in New Zealand twice, in France, in Ireland and at Twickenham. In this time they’ve won just once on the road against a top five team.

That’s the realism I talk about. The Boks don’t win away from home, so don’t expect a win in Brisbane.