Jake White’s obsession with size is misguided. Bigger is not better as the Boks found out in 2004.
Once again Bok coach White has spoken without thinking. Once again journalists have simply gobbled up his words and reported it without actually doing their own research.
White has said you need size to beat England and Ireland in the northern hemisphere. He has done this to justify his team selections. He has sung the praises of just how physical the England pack was against the All Blacks and how big the monsters were that his ‘Standard 8s’ – as he called his Tri Nations champions – encountered in 2004.
The Boks that day got whipped 32-16 after trailing 32-9 on the hour.
White didn’t condemn an inappropriate game plan in the wet, the choice of the wrong flyhalf in the difficult underfoot conditions or poor build-up to the test. Instead White said every one of his players was going back to the gym because it was men against boys out there; matrics against standard eights.
England were too big, too tall and too strong. South Africa, he argued, needed to pick bigger players or make those in the squad bigger.
It was a bizarre statement to call World Cup veteran Os du Randt a boy, as it was to label the international rugby player of the year Schalk Burger a boy. I don’t think Bakkies Botha took too kindly to being called a standard eight, who had just got bullied by a supposedly bigger England matric pupil.
I say supposedly because England were not bigger or taller than South Africa in the forwards that day. Colleague Jon Cardinelli studied the player statistics from that game and it shows that South Africa’s pack was heavier by 15 kilograms and by one and a half per man in the forwards and taller by two centimetres in the forwards.
The pack size of 915 kilograms is the heaviest ever picked to play a test for South Africa.
Our backs were on average taller by three centimetres (and Breyton Paulse played), but lighter by one kilogram on average (damn that Paulse).
It is not size that beat the Boks in 2004, but England’s technique at the breakdown, their superior rucking and counter-rucking and their greater awareness to the conditions.
In the Welsh test at the weekend, the home team were on average four kilograms lighter than Australia in the pack. It wasn’t size that embarrassed Australia in the 78th minute scrum. It was the technique of the Welsh pack.
Technique in the set pieces and at the breakdown is what will be influential against Ireland and England. Just how we cope at the breakdown will be anybody’s guess at the weekend. New Zealand played England with two specialist opensiders in Richie McCaw and Chris Masoe. The latter played from No 8 and it is a strategy that Rassie Erasmus has used effectively in South Africa by playing Kabamba Floors and Ryno van der Merwe (No 8 ) as two opensiders in his loose-trio.
White doesn’t believe in opensiders. In his eyes everyone is an opensider. The theory goes, first to the ball wins it. In theory that’s fine, but the practical test is a bit harder. Not every player likes putting his body on the line to simply slow a ball down.
As Corne Krige told this website and SA Rugby Magazine, the opensider plays a test within a test.
White will opt for Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith and Pierre Spies as his loose-trio. There isn’t a specialist forager among that trio.
White since arriving in Dublin has initiated talk of the size issue. Surely he knows by now it’s not how big it is, but how you use it that brings the greatest success.
You can’t argue with the reality of 2004. White picked a heaver and taller pack than England’s and still got smashed.
Size Jake is not what determines victory in the northern hemisphere. It is how you play the conditions and it depends on how skilled your players are in the tackle and at the breakdown.
Full breakdown of statistics (especially for Jake and those turkeys who simply record what the coach has said and project it as fact)
2004 ENG VS SA
(height listed first, both height and weight rounded off to nearest decimal place)
1 G .Rowntree (1.83, 109)
2 S. Thompson (1.88, 115)
3 J. White (1.85, 120)
4 D. Grewcock (1.98, 119)
5 S. Borthwick (1.98, 110)
6 J.. Worsley (1.96, 111)
7 L. Moody (1.91, 103)
8 M. Corry (1.96, 113)
PACK TOTAL: (15.35m – avg: 1.92; 900kgs – avg: 112, 5)
9 A. Gomarsall (1.78, 91)
10. C. Hodgson (1.78, 82)
11 J. Lewsey (1.78, 87)
12 M.Tindall (1.88. 102)
13 H. Paul (1.80, 93)
14 M. Cueto (1.83, 93)
15 J Robinson (c) (1.73, 84)
BACKS TOTAL: 12.58m – avg: 1.8; 632kgs – avg: 90
17 A. Sheridan
18 B. Kay
19 A. Hazell
20 H.A. Ellis
22 B. Cohen
1 O. Du Randt (1.90, 125)
2 J. Smit (c) (1.88, 116)
3 E. Andrews (1.85, 116)
4 B Botha (2.01,118)
5 V. Matfield (2.01, 110)
6 S. Burger Jr. (1.93, 110)
7 A.J. Venter (1.96, 114)
8 J. Van Niekerk (1.92, 106)
PACK TOTALS: 15.49m – avg: 1.94; 915kgs – avg: 114
9 F. Du Preez (1.83, 88)
10 J Van der Westhuyzen (1.78, 86)
11 J. De Villiers (1.90, 100)
12 D Barry (1.88, 91)
13 M.Joubert (1.88, 94)
14 B. Paulse (1.77, 76)
15 P Montgomery (1.83, 88)
BACKS TOTALS: 12.87 – avg: 1.83; 623kgs – avg: 89
17 C.J. Van der Linde
18 D Rossouw
19 G Britz
20 M. Claassens
21 J. Fourie
22 B. Habana