The Springboks are too busy winning the Tri-Nations to concern themselves with lame bleats about a ‘boring’ playing style.
The Bok management favoured the wrong approach in last year’s tournament and paid the penalty with a last-placed finish. In 2009, they adopted a structured style that secured a series win over the British & Irish Lions and an undefeated record on the home leg of the Tri-Nations.
Nevertheless, the Australasians have accused the Boks of playing boring rugby. If that is the case, Robbie Deans must have snored through the Boks’ 53-8 demolition of Australia at Ellis Park in 2008. Graham Henry must have nodded off whilst watching tapes of South Africa smashing England at Twickenham.
The Australasian media have branded the Boks boring and called for yet another change to the laws to reduce the amount of kicking. ‘Bring back the beautiful game’, one columnist squealed. Coincidentally, these pleads have arrived on the back of some terrible Australia and New Zealand performances.
Springbok assistant coach Gary Gold said this criticism misses the point.
‘People might say we are playing boring rugby, but we are playing winning rugby. We can only play within the laws,’ he told keo.co.za.
‘They say we scored from Australia’s mistakes in that last Test, but there were a number of other opportunities we missed. The foundation is working for us at the moment, but there is still room for improvement.’
The Boks play Australia this Saturday in the first of three Tests Down Under. After winning all three home Tests by using a particular approach, they’re unlikely to change much for this tour.
‘Pressure has been a big part of our strategy this season, we’ve looked to play the percentages,’ Gold explained. ‘If you place the opposition under enough pressure, the opportunities will come.’
The All Blacks squeaked past the Wallabies last Saturday playing a much smarter kicking game than in previous Tests. The Aussies were very competitive at the breakdown, however, and the Boks will need to lift their performance in this area if they’re going to win this weekend.
‘We always knew the Tri-Nations would be a massive step up in the breakdown department, so we worked very hard at improving,’ said Gold. ‘To be honest, I wasn’t happy with our breakdown performance against the Lions. They were criticised for not playing a fetcher in the first two Tests, and look what happened when they did play Martyn Williams in the third game. That caused chaos for us at the breakdown.
‘With Richie McCaw and George Smith on the park, you need to be sharp in this area. So far, we’ve improved. Not only has Heinrich Brussow played well, but guys like Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit have also done their bit in slowing the ball while Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield have cleared the ruck expertly.’
The Boks have created pressure through their kick-and-chase tactics, but they’ll be looking to pressure Australia at the breakdown. To do this, they’ll need to be accurate.
‘We identified discipline as something that needed attention, as this year’s Tri-Nations has seen a change in that the long-arm penalty replaced the free-kick. In other words, the punishment for transgressing is now much harsher.
‘[Australia and New Zealand] can’t afford to be ill-disciplined under these new rules when a team like ours has a kicker like Morne Steyn, who turns those opportunities into points. The same is true of guys like Dan Carter or Matt Giteau. If you impede, they will make you pay.’
Two wins from the next three matches would secure the Boks the Tri-Nations title, while one from three could also do the trick. Gold said the Boks aren’t in any danger of succumbing to a complacent line of thinking.
‘It’s a cliche, but one of the reasons for our success is our one-game-at-a-time approach. We have to focus on what’s in front of us. If we get caught up in the bigger picture, we are going to lose our focus completely.
‘Each game has its own relevance. It was important to get off to a winning start in the opening game [in Bloemfontein], and then it was important that we beat the All Blacks when they were looking to hit back [in Durban]. We only had one opportunity to play Australia at home, and we took it well by securing the win.
‘This week will be different again, as both Australia and New Zealand are definitely better when they play in Australasia.’
By Jon Cardinelli