Stick to your strengths

The Springboks must not be hoodwinked into playing ‘entertaining’ rugby, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day column.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry, in the build-up to Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup/Tri-Nations showdown with Australia, said there was no greater occasion.

Henry said it didn’t get bigger than Sydney. Wrong.

There is a bigger occasion; only Henry has never made it to a World Cup semi-final, let alone a final.

Henry, like all of New Zealand, really wouldn’t know, given that the Kiwis last played in a World Cup final in 1995.

The occasion at a World Cup final is bigger and the demands are greater than retaining the Bledisloe Cup, although Henry would have us believe that what happens in the Trans-Tasman rivalry defines world rugby. Wrong again.

What we saw in Sydney on Saturday was two teams making up the numbers in this year’s Tri- Nations and two teams comfortably 10 points off the pace of the Springboks.

Much has been made of the Springboks’ conservative approach in the tournament. Most of it has been ill-placed because if New Zealand or Australia had SA’s pack, SA’s halfback and SA’s wing chasers, they’d play exactly the same way.

Australian coach Robbie Deans, reflecting on the Springboks, said they won the World Cup without playing rugby.

Deans needs to be reminded that in 2007, the Boks put 59 points past Samoa, 30 points past Tonga, 60-odd points past the US, 37 points past Fiji and 34 points past an Argentinean team that twice beat France in Paris.

The Boks, in 2007, played plenty of rugby, but when they needed to arm-wrestle to win the tournament, they were capable of adapting and doing so.

Deans also needs to be reminded that last year the Boks put 50 points past his Wallabies — and they did so by playing sublime rugby.

The Springboks must not be hoodwinked by the Australians and Kiwis into playing a brand of rugby in the name of entertainment and in the name of making the Tri- Nations a contest. If the Boks stick to their strengths, they will win the tournament. If this represents boring rugby, I’ll take it every day of the week.

If the Bok coaches get suckered into trying to please the Australians and Kiwis they’ll take a beating in the three Tests Down Under.

There was nothing exceptional about Saturday’s Australia-New Zealand match, in spite of the nauseating pretence of the Australian commentators that it was the best match of the Tri- Nations.

All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter provided the drama with a 79th minute penalty to win the game, but the match in terms of quality was no better than anything produced in SA.

Neither side could match SA’s physicality and that allowed for greater intent to move the ball, but invariably both sides failed to make an impression in working the ball through the hands and what won the game for the All Blacks was a kick for field position, an outstanding chase and a decisive penalty from the kick and chase.

When SA plays it this way, the Kiwis groan. When SA relies on six penalties to win a Test, the Aussies groan. However, when the Australasians fashion a win through penalties or kicking for field position, it is the work of an intelligent side that understands the nuances of the game.

It irks the Kiwis and Aussies that they don’t have a counter to the South African way. It frustrates them that physically they can’t match the Boks and tactically they don’t have the players to negate the Boks’ kicking game.

The Aussies and Kiwis talk of entertaining their audience, but the only entertainment the audience wants is victory.

SA’s coaching staff must never forget that there is no reward for coming second, even if it is packaged in the name of flamboyance.

The Boks, who won the World Cup in 2007, are peaking this year. Australia is a team on the rise and New Zealand are too reliant on Carter and Richie McCaw.

Carter’s effect was immediate and if he was not playing in Sydney, Australia would have won comfortably. Australia are a better team than the All Blacks. They are better coached and they are a greater threat to the Boks than the All Blacks.

The Boks, to beat the Wallabies in Australia, must not veer from what worked for them in SA.

It may not look pretty, but the beauty will be in the result.