John Smit says the Springboks’ ability to replicate their success of 2009 depends on their ability to adapt to and master the new law interpretations.
Those who have traced the evolution of the Springboks under coach Peter de Villiers would have noted two distinctly varied seasons – the tactical naivety of 2008 followed by the pragmatic but highly effective kick-chase strategy of 2009.
The new breakdown law interpretations, introduced at the start of the 2010 season, have transformed the complexion of the game significantly, encouraging sides to play through more phases by offering ball carriers more protection at the breakdown than they had previously enjoyed.
However, the most successful sides have been those who have shown an appreciation for varying their game, rather than those, like South Africa’s Lions or New Zealand’s Hurricanes and Chiefs, who have viewed the new law interpretations as license to cast aside pragmatism in favour of all-out attack.
Notably, defence has become even more important, and it is no surprise that sides that have placed an intense emphasis on tackle point dominance as a means of stemming the attacking momentum of their opposition have been successful. The Bulls and Stormers are prime examples.
The Springboks’ ability to find the ideal attacking balance and defensive cohesion will be under intense scrutiny this season. They certainly achieved that for the majority of the 2009 season, and Smit hopes 2010 will herald similar tactical effectiveness.
‘A big part of our goal this year, and that starts against France on Saturday, is identifying the trend and adapting to and mastering that trend tactically to make it work for us,’ Smit told keo.co.za.
‘There have been a number of changes to the laws, not only the breakdown but the scrums as well, and in the latter there is still a bit of frustration from players and referees. The next step in our evolution is to identify what route to take tactically and then to make the rules work in our favour.’
Saturday’s Test represents the first in which the Springboks face each of the world’s elite teams. While their mantra has been and remains to focus solely on the match at hand, Smit admitted that the prospect of conquering that challenge and the associated consequences were appealing.
‘It’s a massive opportunity for this team, as it is for the teams playing us,’ Smit said. ‘Our energy will always be channelled towards the next Test and we’re always focussed on the process and not the destination. We’re also aware that you never win a World Cup a year before the World Cup, but there’s no doubt that victories over the biggest teams will give us confidence and momentum leading into the tournament.’
Turning his attention to the Six Nations champions Smit said: ‘We know how difficult the task ahead is. Their results in the last 12 months have been excellent and they’re a side you measure yourself against if you have ambitions of being the best in the world.
‘They’re probably going to have a couple of hundred supporters at the ground who would have taken the opportunity to catch the national rugby side play after watching the footballers [on Friday], but we’re also feeding off the World Cup energy, which is inescapable.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Cape Town