Boks to benefit from S14 momentum

John Smit says South Africa’s powerful forward showing in the Super 14 bodes well for the Test season.

The Springboks beat the British & Irish Lions and won the 2009 Tri-Nations thanks to their brilliant defence. Clinical kicking translated into territorial dominance, while Heinrich Brussow’s pilfering ability amplified their threat at the breakdown.

Officials were ordered to police the breakdown more strictly in 2010, a change rugby’s authorities felt would end the slowing tactics at the breakdown. Teams were asked to adapt, and the Bulls, Stormers and several other teams made the necessary adjustments. Meanwhile, four of the New Zealand sides persisted with outdated tactics and finished outside of the top four.

There’s little doubt Graham Henry would have noted the tactical failings of the Blues, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes, and you can expect the All Blacks to learn from those mistakes. But will the All Blacks be able to match the Boks by the time the Tri-Nations rolls round? The South Africans, after all, have been thriving under the new laws and will be more than one step ahead of their archrivals come July.

Four Tests precede the Sanzar tournament, with the Boks arriving in Cardiff today. The Test against Wales will be used to experiment with new players and combinations, as will the two-Test series against Italy. The one-off game against France and the Tri-Nations, however, should see a full-strength side riding the momentum that comes with another Super 14 title.

Smit was on the losing side when the Bulls captured their first crown in 2007. The Sharks lost narrowly to the Bulls at Kings Park, and while Smit was disappointed, he noted the effect the win had on the Boks.

The Bulls players brought that success into the national camp, and the Sharks men, despite the loss, were also brimming with confidence and form. Then coach Jake White rested the first-string for the away leg of the Tri-Nations, but at the World Cup, a Bok team packed with Sharks and Bulls players flourished.

The Bulls won the Super 14 trophy for the second time in 2009, and again the success was replicated at Test level in a series win over the Lions and in the Tri-Nations. It’s fair to say that the Boks will be difficult to beat in 2010, especially since the bulk of the team will comprise Bulls and Stormers players. This fact should be confirmed when the squad for the France and Italy Tests is announced this weekend.

The Bok scrum has barely managed to hold it’s own in recent times, but the lineout has always been a strength. Under new laws that favour attacking teams at the breakdown, the Boks should obtain some good go-forward from this set-piece, and as seen in the Bulls and Stormers’ campaigns, South Africa has the backline quality to make the platform tell.

Smit said that while the physicality of these teams has been impressive, the Bulls, Stormers, and even the Sharks, have managed to blend brain with brawn at lineout time.

‘Out of the top five lineout teams in the Super 14, South Africa had three, namely the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks,’ he told keo.co.za. ‘You have to look at who they have making their calls. At the Sharks we had Johann Muller and Alistair Hargreaves [who is listed on the bench for the Wales Test], the Bulls had Victor Matfield and Danie Rossouw, while the Stormers had Andries Bekker or even a guy like Anton van Zyl making the calls.

‘They’re the type of guys that do their homework and that preparation usually pays off when they’re contesting at the lineout. We really are blessed in that department. If there’s ever a choice between lineout or scrum, it’s obvious what the Boks will opt for.’

A Bok side without many notable combinations will have to work to beat the Welsh at the Millennium Stadium, but a full strength side should be too powerful for the French at Newlands. The Boks were bullied up front in Toulouse last November, but after a long European season, the Tricolores should lack the intensity required to best a Bok pack that boasts form and experience.

By Jon Cardinelli