The Springboks would be well advised to watch the tape of the New Zealand versus Ireland game for a lesson in how to completely shatter the confidence of a flyhalf.
Much has been made of the imminent threat of England wunderkind Danny Cipriani. England stalwart Jonny Wilkinson was glowing in his praise of the youngster in his Times of London column on Tuesday, asserting that Cipriani is a better player than he was at the same stage of his career, and plaudits have never been in short supply for Cipriani, particularly from the English press.
But while the Cipriani is undeniably talented, he is by no means the untouchable his countrymen will have the world believe he is.
Australia, through flyhalf Matt Giteau, exposed Cipriani’s defensive flaws at Twickenham on Saturday, and schooled him in the art of pivot play. However, they lacked the punch in their pack to intimidate him physically. Cipriani fronted the media following the defeat, spitting rhetoric about how he enjoyed the challenge and how he’d grow from the experience.
Further north, at a post match press conference at Croke Park, another flyhalf was more honest in his assessment of his performance. “They battered me all game. Just relentless. You can pick yourself up once, maybe twice. But when you are getting decked everytime it does something to your confidence. It wasn’t a great evening for me.”
Ronan O’Gara seemed to have had a bullseye painted on his sternum. He was subject to a brutal man-handling at the hands of the All Blacks’ strike runners, each ploughing into the pivot with more ferocity and with a greater intent to damage than the one who had preceded them.
This shattered the confidence of a usually reliable 10, and this manifested in him taking a number of poor options on attack, with his tactical kicking being a particularly atrocious feature of his play.
This should be the script in dealing with Cipriani. Given time and space on attack he has shown that he possess the repertoire of skills to hurt the opposition. Robbed of those elements, he becomes a distinctly ordinary player.
Furthermore he has shown himself to be a defensive liability against the world’s elite nations. Former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones confirmed this in the media, and urged the Springboks to attack his channel.
At Twickenham the muscle cars that are Schalk Burger, Juan Smit and Pierre Spies should regularly scream up Cipriani Avenue. The Springboks are sure to profit more from this approach than they have in using their most creative back, Jean de Villiers, to bash up to the defensive line. In doing this they lose a major attacking force when the ball is recycled. That simply doesn’t make sense.
The Springboks have been handed a blueprint on how to decimate an opposing flyhalf by the All Blacks. The coaching staff will be well advised to study that and attempt to replicate that strategy at Twickenham on Saturday.
By Ryan Vrede